Natalie Nougayrède writes: t is a rare thing for a high-level official to admit they got something completely wrong. Frederic Hof, the former special adviser on Syria to Hillary Clinton (as secretary of state), has had that temerity – or that kind of despair. He recently wrote an article (for Politico magazine) headlined “I got Syria so wrong”. It is a painful analysis of how early hopes, in 2011, of seeing Bashar al-Assad overthrown by a popular revolt were either naive or blind. It also contains stark criticism of the Obama presidency, which apparently never fully intended to do anything about Syria’s killing fields, preferring to let the problem fester, unaddressed.
It’s tempting to believe that the latest rekindling of international diplomacy over Syria will lead to a brighter outcome. But a few days before ministerial talks were to begin in Vienna, Hof seemed to dash these hopes at a meeting on Syria’s human rights catastrophe in the House of Commons. The walls were covered with photos of tortured bodies smuggled out of Syria two years ago by “Caesar”, a military photographer who believed that if the world could see the slaughter going on in Assad’s jails, it would act. Nothing happened. Now Hof says he can see “no evidence yet of a change of policy” from the US side. Basically, his warning is: don’t be fooled by the new round of talks.
The Obama administration may be sending envoys to talks, and even a special forces unit into northern Syria to fight Isis, but it is nevertheless intent on keeping the Syrian dossier at arm’s length. This is what suits its long-held narrative of withdrawing from conflicts, and it is what the American public wants. There are only 14 months of the Obama presidency left, so the likeliest scenario is that the White House will wait this crisis out. The US has mostly outsourced Syria to regional actors, and all the signs are that it is set to outsource it some more, this time to Russia – whatever the human cost. [Continue reading…]