On Syria: Thank you, Russia!
Once again, Moscow has shown itself better able to make strategic choices than we are. Russia is not an ideal partner for the United States, but sometimes its interests align with ours. In those cases, we should drop our Cold War hostility and work with Russia. The best place to start is Syria.
American policy toward Syria was misbegotten from the start of the current conflict five years ago. By immediately adopting the hardest possible line—“Assad must go”—we removed any incentive for opposition groups to negotiate for peaceful change. That helped propel Syria into its bloody nightmare.
Russia, which has suffered repeated terror attacks from Islamic fanatics, is threatened by the chaos and ungoverned space that now defines Syria. So are we. Russia’s policy should be ours: prevent the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s government, craft a new regime that would include Assad or his supporters, and then work for a cease-fire.
The fall of Assad would create a catastrophic power vacuum like those that have turned Iraq and Libya into terrorist havens. This would be bad for the United States, and even worse for Russia and Iran. We should recognize this common interest, and work with countries that want what we want.
This may seem eminently logical, but the very suggestion is hateful in Washington. It violates a central precept of the liberal/conservative, Republican-Democrat foreign policy consensus: Russia is our eternal enemy, so anything that promotes Russia’s interests automatically undermines ours — and that goes double for Iran. Instead of clinging to this dangerously outdated with-us-or-against-us mantra, we should realize that countries with which we differ in some areas can be our partner in others. Russia is an
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