‘US marginalizes itself, not Russia, by halting cooperation on Syria’ – diplomat
After the US severed talks with Russia on the Syrian peace process, it was reported in the media that officials in Washington were considering carrying out military strikes against Assad’s army “although they acknowledged that such a move carried risks of escalating a confrontation with Russia, and is unlikely.”
According to Freeman, the US and Russia can’t really solve the Syrian problem alone, as that would require agreement from many other parties involved in the conflict – both internal and external. However, he went on to say that “Russia’s a factor in Syria that can’t be ignored, and the decision not to talk to Russia is a decision to marginalize the United States, not Russia.”
Regarding the possibility of directly using of force against the Syrian government’s military, the diplomat expressed hope that the US would refrain from such action, as it would be “illegal under international law,” and “wouldn’t solve anything.”
A key point of disagreement between Moscow and Washington has been the fate of the Syrian president – whether he should stay or be removed from power. The US has insisted that Bashar Assad must go.
In terms of American strategic interests, Freeman said he can’t see what the US would gain from the Syrian president’s ouster “other than some sense of vindication for the liberal agenda that is, frankly, preposterous in Syria.”
Five years since the beginning of the conflict, the Assad regime still enjoys “significant support from some part of the Syrian population,” which has been baffling for Western powers that thought he “could be dislodged very easily, and that turned out to be wrong,” according to the diplomat.
The situation in Syria cannot be viewed as an internal conflict, as the interests of regional players, as well as that of Washington and Moscow, have collided there, Freeman said, admitting that the conflict already has the “characteristic” of a proxy war between Russia and the US.
While the diplomat believes the parties are “wise” enough not to confront each other directly, the danger of this happening is “very considerable.”
“The Russian presence in Syria is in the support of the established government. The United States is attempting to dislodge that government from power. Russia is in the way, and we could get ourselves into the sort of direct clash that we very carefully avoided between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War,” he said.
Freeman believes that Washington lacks a strategy in Syria and has not set any clear objectives.
“You can't win anything with force unless you have a strategy,” he said, adding that US is failing to address the “political dimension” of the conflict.
Freeman also says that it might not be to the US’ advantage to meddle in the internal affairs of another state, with military force in particular, even for the sake of fighting global terrorism. “Should we be helping others to deal with this? Yes, we should. But they should carry the larger burden, and I don’t think we're acting wisely as we intervene in Syria,” Freeman said.
He then noted it could be argued that the US is partially to blame for the current “metastasis of terrorism” in the world and the rapid spread of terrorist activity in Islamic countries.
“The United States, arguably, is part of the cause for that.”
The US diplomat also believes that even if cooperation between the US and Russia resumed, not everything is dependent on just those two world powers’ willingness to resolve the conflict.
“The United States and Russia can't solve the Syrian problem – that requires many more parties who are involved to agree, some external, some internal,” Freeman said, adding that Russia should, in any case, remain an indispensable part of this decision-making process, as “the Syrian issue can't be addressed without Russian participation.”
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