When it comes to trying to negotiate a peace settlement in Syria, the West is no longer calling the shots.
If anyone really is in charge — and that itself is a debatable issue — the chief mediator is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Friday, Sept. 9, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, but not before temporarily calling off the trip at the last minute because of “technical” disagreements.
Kerry’s on-again-off-again pussyfooting came off as exactly what it was: a transparent negotiation tactic by Washington to try to reinstate Uncle Sam’s clout as head honcho.
Meanwhile, while the U.S. secretary of State was hemming and hawing as to the merits of a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov got down to business with a one-hour meeting with the UN peace envoy, Staffan de Mistura, on Thursday, Sept. 8, further widening his sphere of influence regarding the Syrian crisis.
The main point is that now, at long last, a peace plan is finally being ironed out for the Western Asian nation that has endured more than five years of civil war resulting in more than 470,000 civilian deaths and at least 11 million displaced persons.
The new proposed peace plan would begin with a ceasefire in Aleppo and a metered withdrawal of forces from the surrounding region, including an end to Syrian government air attacks and a joint Russian-U.S. assault against Islamic State (I.S.) and other terror groups.
The main substantive issue to be resolved at this stage is the delineation of what surrounding territories will fall into the protected region and what groups besides I.S. and the al-Qaida affiliate Nusra will qualify as terrorist organizations by both U.S. and Russian definitions
Both sides have been overtly and covertly arming their own insurgent militants in Syria for years, and oftentimes what Washington considers an ally group, Moscow deems a terrorist faction, and vice versa.
But these differences are not insurmountable, and a spoonful of goodwill and good intentions on both sides will certainly go a long way to smooth the path to a viable roadmap for Syrian peace.
On a deeper level, Washington is going to have to accept that it will be taking a backseat to Moscow, something that will not go down easy for a country that has, since the end of the Cold War, been the sole international super power.
For five years, the Barack Obama administration tried alternating policies of restraint and engagement in Syria, and only managed to create a more multifarious war.
The only semi-effective ceasefire that has been implemented in Syria in the last five years is the product of Russian statesmanship.
Now, for the sake of the besieged Syrian people — and Middle East peace in general — the United States is going to have to accept its own tactical failures and acquiesce to the diplomatic dexterity of Moscow.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]