The New Pact With Russia
by Hal Lindsey
Since before the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the United States has been working for regime change there. The Russians have been on the opposite side — doing all they could to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s government. In fact, if the Russians hadn’t intervened in the war last year, Assad might well have fallen by now, ending the deadly war.
So why did Secretary of State John Kerry announce on July 15th that the United States and Russia would be working together in Syria? What common cause do the two nations have there? Both sides claim to be fighting terrorists, but the U.S. wants to aid the so-called “moderate rebels” in their fight to overthrow Assad. Russia is on Assad’s side. They fight against everyone trying to get rid of him.
Kerry says the two sides have agreed to coordinate their battle against al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, known until this week as the al-Nusra Front. He said the agreement was intended to “significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition” in Syria.
In the last few days, al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, announced a split from al-Qaeda. He said his group will now be known as “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” or “The Front for Liberation of al Sham.” According to CNN, “U.S. officials quickly dismissed the rebranding as a public relations ploy.” The pact with Russia will continue.
Secretary Kerry refused to give any specifics on how Russia and the U.S. will be cooperating. He said, “The concrete steps that we have agreed on are not going to be laid out in public in some long list because we want them to work.”
Defense Department leaders then did something almost unprecedented. They openly scorned the foreign policy branch of their own government. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said, “The Secretary of Defense has been clear that he has been skeptical of Russia’s activities in Syria and we have reason for that. There are plenty of reasons for that skepticism. And I think he maintains that skepticism.”
On Syria, the Obama Administration looks like a “house divided.” So what’s going? Though Secretary Kerry refused give details of the agreement, it obviously centers around the military. State Department employees won’t be coordinating attacks with the Russians. It will be members of the armed forces.
Defense Secretary Carter correctly believes Russia’s presence has extended the war, and the misery. He said, “We had hoped that they would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war, which is the beginning of all this violence in Syria… They’re a long way from doing that.”
President Obama and Secretary Kerry know that anything we do to help the Russians helps Assad. This, then, looks like a significant shift in U.S. policy toward Bashar al-Assad, Syria, and the civil war. With only a few months of his presidency left, Barrack Obama may have given up on Syria. Earlier this year, he said, “Syria has been a heart-breaking situation of enormous complexity, and I don’t think there are any simple solutions.”
Frederic Hof, writing in The Atlantic, said, “Syria’s ‘complexity’ is the administration’s last-ditch defense for an astounding five-year bottom line: Not one single Syrian protected from the merciless, unrelenting, and deliberate campaign of mass homicide and collective punishment inflicted by the Assad regime against millions of Syrians.”
Few U.S. presidents have ever seen a foreign policy disaster quite like Syria. In June fifty-one State Department diplomats released a memo that severely criticized the Obama Administration’s handling of the civil war. In the New York Times, Max Fisher characterized the basic disagreement between the diplomats and the Administration. “Current policy has little answer for how to break out of a status quo that is disastrous and steadily getting worse.”
To express the depth and magnitude of Syrian despair, we’re reduced to the use of statistics — mere numbers to account for human lives. By February of this year, 11.5% of Syrians had been killed or injured according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research. That group estimates that by February, 470,000 people had died. Forty-five percent of Syria’s population has been displaced by the war. In 2010, life expectancy for Syrians was at 70. By 2015, it had dropped to 55.
It all started with the “Arab Spring” — something the Obama Administration’s State Department, then led by Hillary Clinton, encouraged at every turn. They mistakenly saw the “Arab Spring” as democracy taking root in the Muslim Middle East. They believed an era of freedom and human dignity was about to flourish all across that troubled region.
Their mistake was in not understanding the nature of Islam. The “Arab Spring” quickly became an excuse for brutal despotism. Nation after nation fell to violence. Most have not recovered. New terror groups such as ISIS were born, and old terror groups such as al-Qaeda were strengthened.
On the other hand, those who think we can safely ignore crises in other countries don’t understand just how small our world has become. America totally withdrew from Iraq, and did as little as possible in Syria. Those two actions created ISIS, opened the door to the Russians, and sent millions of refugees surging out of Syria and the Middle East, and into the rest of the world.
So what do we do? The short answer is, pray. The long answer includes repentance. The Old Testament gives ample evidence that when God withdraws His favor from a land, intractable problems become the norm. Our hope today — our only hope — is in God’s mercy. And that’s how we should pray.