President Obama: "It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western countries to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime. But I do believe that we can apply international pressure to all the parties, including Russia, and Iran, who are essentially propping up Assad; as well as those moderate opposition that exist and may be fighting inside of Syria, to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition."
It's a straw man. Nobody asked President Obama to send in ground troops to overthrow Assad. The only variation he allows for in this schema is that other countries might also invade. There are other options. In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg¹ he mentions that John Kerry asked for missiles to be fired at specific régime targets. Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination to be the next president has come out in favour of a no fly zone, while Bernie Sanders is opposed. He could have called for the Syrian National Coalition to be recognised as the legitimate government. He could have supported the establishment of the FSA as the national army. He could have exerted diplomatic pressure on Iran and Russia to give up support for Assad and his régime, and pressured them to allow an immediate transition to a democratic and accountable government.
Instead he did none of those things. He recognised the SNC as the "legitimate opposition", allowing the US to pretend to be a friend and keep its leaders beholden to the West. He sent the CIA to Turkey's borders to act as gatekeepers to ensure that weapons that might stop Assad's massacres like anti-aircraft missiles were kept out, and the flow could be shut off if it looked like the rebels were advancing too fast. This isn't an inevitable policy for the US, but it is one that the dead weight of their previous choices has tied this administration to.
Russia and Iran are propping up Assad. No kidding! That the President is forced to even mention that now is a sign of the reality of their complicity in the genocide forcing its way even into his twisted narrative. Where the US has uttered ritual denunciations of the Assad régime, it has been muted about those who have enabled it. There are sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine. There are none such when it comes to Syria.
There is no pressure on them, other than to get Assad to show up at Geneva. If you want to know why the peace talks are a joke, ask why the United States expects the Russians to give up Assad, let alone the régime, when there is no downside to doing so.
And so to the moderate opposition. Who may be fighting inside of Syria. Not who are fighting against Assad, not who are fighting against Assad and ISIS, not who are the only line of defence against his depredations (other than the Islamists who are also fighting Assad and ISIS). Because that would be to give the game away, that there is an alternative to a US invasion as a way to stop the bloodshed. To maintain the illusion that there is no alternative to the status quo the victims of this war have to be rendered as unpersons.
And what sort of pressure is the US going to exert on them, to force them to talks? To not make precondtions that Assad must leave, so that Iran and Russia can happily keep him in place, perhaps replacing him if he becomes inconvenient, but maintaining the core of the régime so they can retain their influence. All this talk of a transition is a con, designed to make it look like a game of musical chairs will bring peace. In reality the opposition knows that saying Assad doesn't have to go now means there will be no change, no democracy, no justice, no end to the rape and torture. The US administration believes, or purports to believe, that those are only functions of the war situation, Syrians know that the régime will not go back, cannot go back, to operating any other way. The US won't even support for the opposition's minimal basic demands, that prisoners be released, that bombing, starvation and torture stop.
Just before that passage, from the full interview²:
"Syria has been a heartbreaking situation of enormous complexity, and I don't think there are any simple solutions to Syria, and those who pretend that there are, probably haven't been paying attention to a lot of the details."
Hypocrite. The man who can't tell us if the moderate opposition are fighting in Syria for sure, let alone who they are fighting against, lectures unnamed critics with undescribed solutions that they haven't been paying attention. Once again the claim of complexity is a charm to enable the avoidance of the elephant in the room. And then afterwards:
"We continue to strike ISIL targets in Raqqa. There is going to be a military component to this, even as we try to bring an end to the civil war. In order to solve the long-term problems in Syria, a military solution alone, and certainly us deploying ground troops, is not going to bring that about."
The incoherence should be clear. There is only a military solution being offered to deal with one symptom of the problem. While he casts this as a civil war, not a revolution against genocide, he can only continue to be seen to enable the Assad narrative that this is all about a struggle against terrorism, and there are no fundamental changes needed to bring about peace.
Responding to the suggestion that the lack of assertive response or engagement by the US has helped the fuel the migration crisis:
"You can't have it both ways. You can't say, 'We don't want to do anything in Syria,' our parliaments won't ratify any actions in Syria, but we do want the United States to do something about it."
This is not a fair or true argument. The British parliament did agree last year to take action in Syria, but only against ISIS, the way President Obama likes it. When he and David Cameron presented proposals for action in 2013, they kept the options deliberately vague, enabling opponents to make it look as if they were starting another war. Even going to the legislatures, when they feel no need for other military operations, were a sign they didn't want the votes to go in favour of action, so that they could subsequently use them as an excuse for their inaction, as President Obama does here. None of the people who were protesting against the proposal for airstrikes are asking the US to sort things out, nobody is asking for what the President claims is the only interventionist course of action open to him.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, Colonel Steve Warren, has offered implicit support to a Russian assault on Aleppo by saying³ it is mostly held by al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate, which the US also likes to bomb, because its counter-terrorism focus makes them worse villains than the murderers of hundreds of thousands. And the White Helmets said of Friday:
"Today has been the worst day in Syria for over a year. Attacks are everywhere….Tracking attacks in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Damascus. Furious intensity. Teams report streets littered with bodies….We return to work with sadness and heavy hearts."
As the opposition said⁵ in suspending cooperation with the talks in Geneva:
"For two years, Mr de Mistura was appointed in his task as a U.N. envoy and during this period the killing was increased or doubled in Syria and also the number of villages and areas that were under siege also increased where is Mr De Mistura and his team.
We put our participation in the negotiations on hold to respect the Syrian blood that is shed under strike from the regime and its allies and to respect the Syrians who are killed of hunger following the siege and to respect Syrians who are killed under torture."
President Obama says in the BBC interview:
"Whether we like it or not, we live in an interconnected world...It would be tempting for a lot of people to believe we can pull up the drawbridge...It requires us to build international institutions, and support regional and international structures...In the absence of such cooperation, we won't solve these problems. That's true in Syria."
Not all of us have castles, like his friends in the royal family, to pull up the drawbridge to. The only way this is true in Syria is if you think of Iran and Russia as partners whose sphere of influence needs to be respected, and ignore the demand of Syrians for sovereignty over their own country.
He says of Libya:
"I continue to believe that had we stood by passively, that Gadaffi would have killed enormous numbers of his own people. Libya would be embroiled in a continuing war, that would have been even more disruptive and damaging."
That's what he's done in Syria, in spades, and no amount of reframing of the narrative will erase that.