Leaks that were published about a meeting between United States Special Envoy to Syria Michael Ratney and the [National] Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces are exposing aspects of the broad plans of American policy vis-à-vis Syria. Washington wants to stop the war and resume negotiations. However, Washington demands that the Opposition talk with Russia, assuring it that it has no intentions to create a Kurdish federation.
Ratney is presenting a fairy tale regarding the aims of his country in Syria. He is giving a scoop to the media about the Russians wanting to keep Bashar Assad, while Washington wants a new Syria without him. Meanwhile, Ratney is putting Washington’s communications with Moscow in the context of saving the Opposition from defeat. If not for that, the Opposition would be crushed, even though Washington once rejected military cooperation with Moscow that sought to protect the Opposition.
The U.S. envoy is announcing his country’s disdain for the concerns of those listening. He is forgetting that the U.S. ambassador in Damascus accompanied his French and British counterparts to visit the demonstrators in Homs in 2011, blessing them and informing them that the world, under the leadership of the United States, is with them. The American diplomat is whispering that Russia is putting all of the factions of the Opposition in the same box as al-Nusra; that his country is keeping Putin’s army from exterminating opponents of the Assad regime in Damascus; that the American intervention in Moscow explains why Russian pilots are refraining from systematically bombing the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo while they are attacking the opposition of Aleppo in order to break the siege of the city.
This man of Washington is complaining about the failure of Sunni Arabs to join his country’s plan against the Islamic State, which justifies the Kurdish option in this regard. Although he denied any political cover for Kurdish and federal ambitions in Syria, he then asserted that the Kurds are a group that will not disappear from the Syrian landscape, calling on the Opposition to speak with them.
Regarding the matter of fighting the Islamic State group, Ratney appears confident in his country’s strategy and its control of its military and political tactics. The Manbij offensive — Raqqa in Syria and the battle of Fallujah — and Mosul in Iraq seem to be one battle with a shared map. Washington is conducting its war by choosing allies and identifying enemies. It is very good at gracefully glossing over the inconsistencies that might hinder its plans. Washington is working hard to smooth over all of the rough patches in Iraq: It is defending Haider al-Abadi as the head of state in Iraq and clearing Salim al-Jabouri of corruption charges to ensure stability at the top in parliament. Washington is cultivating an alliance between the Kurds and the Sunni tribes in northern Syria and delaying the creation of a Kurdish state there. The current occupant of the White House wants to see a remarkable victory against the Islamic State group to crown the end of his presidency and to support the nominee of his party with an injection of support via a victory in the war on terror before the election.
The function of Ratney on behalf of the Syrian Opposition resembles the function of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on behalf of the Syrian regime in 2013. At that time, Washington was furious and moved its naval forces toward Syrian shores immediately following accusations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. The Russian foreign minister summoned his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, on behalf of the United States to oversee the withdrawal of the Syrian chemical arsenal.
Ratney’s account of his deliberations with the Syrian Opposition squares with the go-ahead his country has given the Russians to interfere in Syria. The Syrian crisis has been outsourced to Vladimir Putin, who audaciously volunteered men and material to do what Obama and his Western allies have abstained from doing. The childishly flimsy belief that Washington wishes to lure Russia into drowning in the Syrian mire is not true; rather, the United States has assisted Russian efforts with all the diplomatic, logistical and political means necessary for Putin to succeed in producing a solution in Syria.
Based on what Ratney has said about his meeting with the Opposition delegation, the American special envoy to Syria is almost acting as an employee of the Russian government, not the U.S. government. The effect of saying to the Opposition, “Russia is capable of crushing you all,” is that, “If Russia does that, you will not find an American objection; even Secretary of State John Kerry, who visits Moscow more than Washington, has begun advising you all to open a dialogue with Russia, not with us.”
However, in the form of a leak, things can be crueler than its implications. This leak by the U.S. was intended to let its Russian “partner” know the best American means of “recruiting” the Opposition to the Russian agenda in a manner that absolves Washington from any of the transgressions in U.S.-Russian plans, which Opposition forces might hack into with assistance from other, regional authorities.
Ratney is not stating the American agenda in Syria, as he said he was. Rather, he is carefully translating the position of the Obama administration, months before the November presidential election, on Syria and its two dimensions: regime and opposition. While Washington knows that the Syrian solution is not in the hands of regional actors, it cannot do anything to change the situation. So it has to maintain the status quo in Syria until the new administration is settled in Washington.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is working hard to impose new realities in the region through various means: the agreement with Israel; then the agreement with Turkey; then its reliance on Hamadan, Iran, for a base to launch its strategic aircraft. So Washington is putting its influence behind the Kurds in the farthest eastern part of Syria — beyond the Euphrates, near Manbij and al-Bab. At the same time, U.S. military bases, which are said to number around four, are quietly spreading in northern Syria in order to refocus the American presence, and thereby preempt Russian expansion toward U.S. projects in Iraq.
In the end, Lavrov may be working daily in the service of Washington’s agenda because the people in the Kremlin know the limits of their power and the furthest limit of their maneuvers. They realize that they are only playing within a deliberately forsaken void. However, Michael Ratney is signaling to Russia that their Caesar, Vladimir Putin, can do as he likes, but only until the newcomer to the White House decides to fill the Syrian void.