In Libya, Obama chose to lead from behind; in Syria it’s now feed from behind

The New York Times reports: Most of the Russian and American aircraft traversing Syria have been warplanes firing missiles and dropping bombs. But under an international agreement to aid Syrians trapped in the fighting, Russian planes will soon be dropping food in an operation partly financed by the United States.

The United Nations World Food Program will start its first airdrops in Syria in coming days, relief officials said Thursday. The main focus is Deir al-Zour, an eastern Syrian city where more than 200,000 inhabitants are ringed by forces of the Islamic State, which has made land access impossible.

Under the emergency aid agreement, truck convoys began supplying food and medicine to five besieged towns in other parts of Syria on Wednesday. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for the Syrian conflict who helped to negotiate the final arrangements, had hinted that airdrops were an option for areas that are unreachable by land.

The World Food Program will use aircraft provided by a Russian contractor for the drops, which are conducted by parachute from high altitudes, said Bettina Luescher, a spokeswoman for the agency. [Continue reading…]

If the U.S. administration wanted to salvage a few crumbs of credibility among the Syrians who it has otherwise deserted, it could have seized this opportunity in public diplomacy — just as the Russians have.

It’s all very well to say that getting aid to those in need is more important than taking credit, but somehow, I doubt very much that U.S. decision-making at this juncture has been guided by humility. Moreover, Russia’s interest in taking the lead is surely guided by its own desire to do exactly what the Assad regime has in its long-running manipulation of UN aid distribution: support it’s military strategy by steering aid towards its own supporters.

Obama might persist in his passive approach to Syria because he sees himself as the choreographer of America’s departure from the Middle East, but walking away is much easier said than done.

Syria has become a global crisis precisely because so many governments and populations outside the conflict thought it could be ignored or viewed calmly from a comfortable distance.

Meanwhile, many of those who in the past argued most vehemently against Western intervention have since become cheerleaders of Russia’s intervention — erstwhile anti-militarists who turn out to be secret admirers of Vladamir Putin’s muscularity.

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