Frederic C. Hof writes: President Obama recently told reporters in Manila that he cannot “foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power.” But according to the president, “it may take some months for the Russians and the Iranians and frankly some members of the Syrian government and ruling elites within the regime to recognize the truths that I just articulated.” Syrian President Bashar al- Assad himself told Italian state television that the diplomatic process supposedly launched in Vienna to transition away from him is nonsense. According to Syria’s barrel-bomber in chief, “nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria.” “Terrorist,” according to Assad, is anyone opposing him.
So much of Washington’s Syria policy has rested on wishing and hoping that others would recognize objective truths and act accordingly. The list goes back to 2011: Assad should choose to be part of the solution rather than the problem; Assad should step aside for the good of Syria; Assad should not use chemical weapons on his own people lest he cross a bright red line; Assad should read the words of the 2012 Geneva Final Communique and prepare to pack; Moscow should realize its military intervention in Syria will alienate it from the Sunni Muslim world; Iran should grasp the chance to become a normal state and a force for regional stability; everyone should recognize the incompatibility of uniting Syrians against the Islamic State with a continuing political role for Assad.
No doubt Syrians, Russians and Iranians would be much better off, and the world a safer place, if the president’s “truths” were taken to heart by their political leaders. Alas, these truths are not regarded by his adversaries — and, yes, they are his adversaries — as true. And even if they are objectively true, they are not self-actualizing. Yet this administration sometimes sees the alpha and omega of foreign policy as delivering the lecture and hoping the students get it. [Continue reading…]