If, come November 9, Donald Trump is looking for a secretary of state with the talents and experience to appease Vladimir Putin, he could do worse than retaining the current incumbent, John Kerry. As Walter Russell Mead has observed, “Watching the State Department pursue its Syria negotiation with Russia was surreal: as if Robert E. Lee had to chase Ulysses Grant around Northern Virginia, waving a surrender document in his hands and begging Grant to sign it.”
If anything, Mead is being too kind, for the price of gaining yet another “cessation-of-hostilities” deal in Syria was to give the Russians (and thus the Assad regime and the Iranians) “targeting information” about ISIS and the former al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front). To extend Mead’s analogy, this is like Lee telling Grant where his remaining forces were while racing to Appomattox. For the Syrian opposition, this is a challenge; the Syrian battlefield is a mess and the forces on it intertwined. Moreover, the war is being fought in traditional Middle Eastern, the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, fashion. The leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Maryland senator Ben Cardin, warned the Free Syrian Army and others to “distance itself from Nusra Front”—Russian and Assad regime pilots are neither particular nor precise when they bomb.
An emboldened Assad welcomed the truce by appearing at a mosque in a Damascus suburb recently retaken by regime forces to announce that “the Syrian state is determined to recover every area from terrorists”—which means all groups opposed to his rule—”without hesitation, regardless of any internal or external circumstances.” His troops fulfilled his pledge, conducting airstrikes near Idlib in northeastern Syria over the weekend that reportedly killed 90.
Read more at The Weekly Standard.