President Obama’s continuing focus on removing Syria’s President Assad to secure America’s co-operation with Russia to destroy Islamic State – whilst President Putin has now independently commenced Russian air strikes in Syria - supposedly on Islamic State forces – exposes both leaders' lack of credibility and political judgement.
Obama addressing the United Nations General Assembly on 28 September asserted:
“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo…
"… Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL. But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild."
Obama’s acceptance of Russia and Iran as acceptable partners – but not Syria - makes no sense. Russia and Iran have propped up Assad’s hold on power in Syria for the last five years enabling the bloodshed and carnage in Syria to continue unabated.
Putin however argues for co-operation with Syria’s armed forces:
“We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad's armed forces and Kurd militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”
Putin’s undisguised contempt for the American led coalition’s efforts to degrade and destroy Islamic State is a harsh – and arguably unfair - indictment.
Obama’s preference for a Security Council Resolution can be gleaned from his comments made at a press conference in Russia on 6 September 2013 – shortly after chemical weapons had been used in Syria to gas 1400 people including 400 children. America took the view that Assad was the culprit – whilst Russia considered that the rebel force battling Assad was the aggressor.
President Obama reasoned:
“You know, there are number a of countries that just as a matter of principle believe that if military action is to be taken, it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council…
"… It is my view … that given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required and that will not come through Security Council action.
"And I respect those who are concerned about setting precedents of action outside of a U.N. Security Council resolution. I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.”
Eight days later – after three days of negotiations between America and Russia – the Security Council in fact adopted a resolution - jointly sponsored by America and Russia - on destroying chemical weapons in Syria - contrary to Obama’s belief that such co-operation was not possible.
Concentrating on their commonly agreed problem – destroying chemical weapons – and not who fired them – averted any possible Security Council paralysis.
Similarly Russia and America need to concentrate on jointly destroying their common agreed enemy - Islamic State - under a UN mandated Security Council Resolution - rather than acting independently – and dangerously - of each other whilst arguing about Assad’s fate as President or Syria’s inclusion in any proposed UN force.
President Putin warned that the stakes of operating outside a UN Security Council resolution are high:
“Russia stands ready to work together with its partners on the basis of full consensus, but we consider the attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations as extremely dangerous. They could lead to a collapse of the entire architecture of international organizations, and then indeed there would be no other rules left but the rule of force.
"We would get a world dominated by selfishness rather than collective work, a world increasingly characterized by dictate rather than equality. There would be less of a chain of democracy and freedom, and that would be a world where true independent states would be replaced by an ever-growing number of de facto protectorates and externally controlled territories.
"On the basis of international law, we must join efforts to address the problems that all of us are facing and create a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism.
"Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of forces that are resolutely resisting those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind. And, naturally, the Muslim countries are to play a key role in the coalition, even more so because the Islamic State does not only pose a direct threat to them, but also desecrates one of the greatest world religions by its bloody crimes.”
President Obama also understands the risks of acting unilaterally:
“No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.”
With Russian airstrikes seriously escalating the conflict in Syria - Obama and Putin need to urgently sponsor that Security Council resolution before the Syrian sinkhole opens even wider.