‘Washington hardening position toward Russia, ran out of options in Syria’

Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front. © Khalil Ashawi
The US suspension of talks with Russia on a Syrian ceasefire represents a desire to go back and try to topple the Assad government, as well as a change in attitude toward Russia, former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT.

On Monday the US suspended talks with Russia on the ceasefire agreement in Syria. The State Department accused Moscow of not fulfilling the obligations of the US-Russia deal.

Moscow blamed Washington for disrupting the ceasefire deal, saying the US is ready “to make a deal with the devil.”

RT: What is your reaction to the action the US has taken?

Michael Maloof: That is a very unfortunate development and I think it bodes ill for any further effort on a bilateral basis between the US and Russia to try to continue the dialog to come to some conclusion toward a ceasefire, work on a ceasefire. We can’t even get to the ceasefire, let alone try to talk about a transition government. I think it is unfortunate that they have suspended those talks.

The one good thing is that they have agreed to continue coordinating the air flights, through the Pentagon, through the telecom conference that is going on – that is a good thing – so there is no conflict between the US and Russian aircraft. But for the most part I think the fact that they have suspended discussions toward a ceasefire also shows the US has run out of diplomatic options. It also shows that it just doesn’t have control over these rebels, who I think wanted this development to occur, because they didn’t want this ceasefire in the first place. It also helps the Saudis and the Qataris, who also want to topple Assad. And the US is very loyal to the Saudi position. All in all this is a mess right now and it is a very unfortunate development.

RT: Washington has long been saying that if its initial plan on Syria fails, it's going to implement a ‘Plan B’. What do you think will happen on the ground?

MM: I think that represents a policy change; the US is starting hardening its position, actually toward Russia. I think this is also a signal toward Russia just as it is toward the Assad government. It may reflect also a desire by Washington to go back and try to topple the Assad government, because it is just doesn’t have any other options. Plus this represents a hardening of positions toward Moscow. What we might hear soon is other means being undertaken – namely this Plan B that was so prominent a few months ago, but then dropped off – but that is to arm other ‘rebels’ and gives them encouragement. The rebels are encouraged by this, because they are going to get more sophisticated arms and continue the war. I talked to a Free Syrian Army representative [yesterday] morning and he told me the Syrians can fight forever, they can just go on forever. I think that is true – these rebels can continue on and will continue on as long as they are being supplied with these weapons.

RT: We know there are many factions within Syria, and many rebel groups have been able to get arms and support for the five years of this war. Why should it stop any time soon?

MM: Just as it is a war on the ground in Syria, it is also a battle among the powers from the outside that are feeding this war frenzy… And it is not in the Saudi’s interest to have a ceasefire just as it is not in the interest of the opposition fighters to have a ceasefire, but they want Assad toppled – that is their goal.

We’re coming back to that again; we’ve made basically a 360. We’re coming back to that. And I think that it also comes at a very interesting time in our own presidential election campaigns that is going on right now...

According to Professor Joshua M. Landis, Director, Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma, Washington doesn’t have a Plan B for the Syrian conflict.

“Not at the moment. I don’t think President Obama wants to go to war against Russia in Syria. He said that very clearly a year ago, when Russia jumped into this war. He said: ‘We’re not going to fight a proxy war with Russia for Syria’,” Landis told RT.

At a closed-doors meeting with Syrian opposition representatives at the UN last month, John Kerry voiced his frustration at not being able to topple President Assad. 

In Landis’ words, that indicates that “there are people in the State Department like John Kerry – when he first came in – who believed the US should use more force against Assad and to escalate in Syria.”

“President Obama did not want to do that and he very quickly let John Kerry know that he would not have the backing of the President, and the President was not going to use military force against Assad. He did not want to get America ensconced in a third Middle Eastern war. That was very frustrating for Kerry. He was left with nothing but diplomacy, which we saw in the last instance with the ceasefire, did not work,” he said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.