Putin and Assad Left Obama In The Dust Of The Aleppo End Game

Don't be fooled. The current air blitz by Russian jets, Syrian government troops and Iranian-organized ground forces would have happened without the bogus ceasefire that officially ended last week. If President Barack Obama didn't realize that when he made a ceasefire deal with Russia, then Vladimir Putin bamboozled him.

Or Obama bamboozled himself.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled the Russian bellicose intent when early in the middle of the ceasefire period, he said that U.S.-backed rebels had failed to separate themselves from the Nusra Front, a terrorist group, and so Russia would have to bomb everybody. If Moscow had any subsequent hesitation, the attack by U.S. jets on forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, killing some 60 government soldiers, provided Putin with a green light.

The Obama Administration said the air strike was a mistake. The Russians quickly bombed an aid convoy near Aleppo and Aleppo's demolition was on.

The Russian tactics in Aleppo date at least to Moscow's 1999-2000 siege of Grozny, the capital of then-breakaway Chechnya. The siege, which included aerial bombing and heavy artillery shelling that devastated the city, had the dual purpose: to flush out civilians and guerrillas; anyone left in the city was dead meat. That's what's going on in Aleppo.

Islamist-inspired insurgents are in the east side of Aleppo and that's the target of what might be the heaviest bombing of any city in the Middle East, ever, including America's 2003 bombing of Baghdad and Israel's 1982 bombing of Beirut. Congratulations, Putin! You're Number One!

President Obama wanted to stay out of Syria, where he thought a quagmire lurked at all costs. Setting up a refugee safe zone early in the war was an option, but he feared defending such a haven would require US air intervention. Of course, Obama ended up bombing anyway (just the Islamic State, though) without much effect. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and, last year, Europe at the invitation of Germany's Angela Merkel. Congratulations, Obama!

Washington's haphazard policy has left Secretary of State John Kerry with an unenviable task. He is habitually down on his knees begging Russia to stop. But Putin unabashedly aims to prop up Assad and since, with Russia's help, Assad is currently winning, he has no reason to desist. In Russia's view, ceasefires are for losers.

Iran is somehow left out of Kerry's supplication diplomacy even though Tehran oversees its own affiliated militias on the ground in Syria and keeps arms and money flowing to Assad. If Kerry approached Tehran people maybe might notice that the US-Tehran nuclear weapons deal seems to have unleashed Iran's regional war ambitions. The mullahs can carry on minus the distraction of a possible Israeli air strike on its atom facilities.

A year and a half ago, Obama predicted that the nuclear deal indeed would not heal the "deep divisions" between the US and Iran, including Iran's "support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East." Obama said, "We will remain vigilant in countering those actions." It turns out, that's all he's doing. Remaining vigilant.

It seems to me that Obama (or more likely, his successor) has three options:

He can continue as now, intervening here and there and thus consigning Syria to a slow-drip Assad victory anyway while destructive warfare continues. This option has the domestic political advantage for Obama of preserving the fiction that he doesn't actually go to war. Somehow this myth is still at large in the US, though Obama's bombing five other countries-Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan- in case you haven't noticed.

Or, Obama can try to match the Russians by attacking the Syrian army (Assad's continued use of chemical weapons would be a ready excuse), showing Moscow that it's client can't win so easily after all and it would be better to go to peace talks right away. This, of course, would risk an open collision with Moscow, perhaps in the air. And remember, Obama doesn't want to get embroiled in Syria very much. Nobel Peace Prize winners aren't supposed to shout bombs away.

Or Obama can throw in the towel, do nothing and effectively give way to Assad as the lesser of many evils. Let Russia wipe out the Islamic State, if it can. Such a decision would surrender an unhappy Sunni Muslim population, largely centered in Syria's marginalized (and now battered) cities and rural areas, to an inevitable post-war crackdown and long-term police state. Lots of refugees might well refuse to go back. Critics and supporters of Obama would complain that such an option ruins American credibility, the great bogeyman of US foreign policy failures. On the other hand, what credibility does Obama have in managing Middle East crises?

Me, I want the war to end. Maybe I'm off-base-but it's hard to think of an aftermath worse than the awfulness that has crushed Syria for the past five years. If Assad stays on, so be it.