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Obama is Trying to Win an Election, Not the War in Syria

US administration policy is to keep the Syrian war dormant until the US election is out of the way. However opposition from hardliners in Washington and the deterioration of the situation on the ground in Syria is making that more difficult.

With November slowly creeping towards the American electorate, the Democrats are pushing for a continuation of a current cessation of hostilities in Syria, however, the United States’ lack of leadership and cooperation with its regional partners, Russia and Iran, now threatens further escalation into a hybrid proxy war.

With so much on the line in November the White House has adjusted their foreign policy in Syria to ensure the ceasefire is held, while chipping away at the Islamic State. However, due to the success of the assault by Assad’s forces, backed by Russian led airstrikes, the terrorist group faces losing their stronghold of Aleppo. If captured, the city would allow government forces to secure a major hub in northern Syria from which they could further displace ISIS.

The threat of Assad’s military success, however, may force Obama to change his policy before the end of the election cycle, as domestically, the war in Syria has been relegated to the back burner. With the threat of the Islamic Caliphate subsiding, Obama cannot afford to disrupt the media’s perception and the electorate’s belief that the United States has made significant progress in resolving the Syrian conflict.

Cracks have already started to appear in the upper echelons of the administration. In what can only be seen as warmongering coming from the State Department, a group of 51 diplomats recently published their dissent of Obama’s current policies in Syria and called on him take a “more militarily assertive role” against Assad’s regime, even at the risk of a significant deterioration of US-Russian relations. Ramping up their involvement in the region would precipitate air strikes against Damascus and or an attack on Assad himself.

Flagrant calls for aggressive military intervention by the US such as these are a direct consequence of the “opposition’s” failure to gain any sort of foothold in the region. They have floundered, wasting away their chances to establish a strong foothold in the north and south. Rather, instead, Assad has pushed outwards from the coast, effectively cutting off the Turkmen of the north, the Kurds, and the Sunni coalitions in the south. Once Aleppo is retaken the Syrian Army will control all major hubs within the country, except for Raqqa.

If Assad succeeds, it would be an embarrassment to the Democrats, who have taken the mantle of war hawks from the Republicans over the past eight years. They want to show to the American people, that Hillary will carry the military’s torch more fastidiously than draft dodging Donald Trump. Thus, as the Syrian ceasefire continues to unravel, they may be more inclined to wag the dog and directly assault Damascus.

Standing in the way of this reckless plan is Russia, who has tacitly supported the regime against its regional neighbors Saudi Arabia and Turkey from the beginning. Being one of the few countries who has received an explicit instruction to conduct military operations in the country, Russia risks being drawn into any direct conflict between the United States and Assad. One cannot but think that if Obama ordered airstrikes, the Russians would be called upon to provide air coverage support with their modern S-400, which called “the most capable and lethal long-range air defense missile system on the planet.” Political damage caused by the downing of a US fighter by a Russian SAM would be magnitudes greater than when Turkey shot down a Russian bomber in November 2015.

Even if airstrikes against Damascus are ruled out, conflict might arise between the two powers as a result of airstrikes disputed targets. Just this last week, Russian bombers conducted a strike against so-called “opposition” forces in the southern city of At-Tanf. American fighters were scrambled to protect the rebels, but when they left to refuel, the Russians attacked again, killing several and injuring dozens acting as responders to the first attack.

Russia will continue to support Assad and a military victory in the civil war. Peace will be had only when every rebel is dead, even those supported by the US. As long as Obama provides no discernable strategy, interactions of this kind will be one quick trigger finger away from direct aerial engagement between US and Russia, a truly terrifying prospect.

Democrats have dug themselves a hole in Syria. Obama cannot change course now and work with the Russians and Iranians to negotiate a lasting peace, lest he admit failure and appear weak before voters. He is now stuck financing and training rebels indistinguishable from ISIS, as well as the Kurds; a folly to be chalked up on the list of failed foreign policy failures under his tenure including Libya, Ukraine, and Afghanistan.

If Syria can be kept out of the headlines until the election, the Democrats will benefit from Obama’s apparent “success” in holding a weak ceasefire. Kicking the can to the next administration may prolong his party’s reign in the White House, but it will not vindicate him if the region continues to crumble and suffer at the hands of the Islamic State. Obama must come to the table and negotiate even if it means that Assad remains in power. His hands off approach has failed, driven millions of refugees to Turkey and Europe and, together with NATO’s encirclement of Russia’s eastern border, threatens a new Cold War. His Democratic party cannot be allowed to continue their detrimental policies that are destabilizing the entire world. Peace in Syria is what should be won by November, not elections.

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