13:41 GMT +321 October 2019
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    What You Talkin' Bout Obama? President Plays Down Russian Success in Syria

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    In an interview for ABC News, President Barack Obama suggested that sooner or later, Russia will wise up and join the US-led anti-ISIL camp in Syria. Moreover, again emphasizing the need to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, the president noted that he would try to convince his Russian counterpart to that effect over the next year.

    The interview airing Friday, has already become the subject of a scandal, with commentators attacking the president for his suggestion that ISIL had been "contained" just hours ahead of the deadly terror attacks in Paris.

    In the same interview, asked by his interviewer about whether "Vladimir Putin will start to take [ISIL] on," (an odd question, given that Russia has been bombing ISIL positions for a month and a half), Obama offered an equally strange response.

    Starting off by noting that he sincerely believes that "Putin…from the start has been sincere in seeing ISIL as a threat," the president turned around and contradicted himself in the same breath, suggesting that "the reason he went into Syria is not primarily because of ISIL, but to prop up Assad."

    With this in mind, the president said, "part of our goal is to underscore for him and for everyone in the region that ISIL is the primary threat and you can't solve the ISIL problem if, in fact, you've got a country that is governed by somebody who's illegitimate and that the majority of Syrians reject." This is an especially peculiar line for the president to take given that his own approval ratings have dipped below 50% on numerous occasions in the course of his own presidency.

    With these remarks, the president clarified that he is set on continuing to ignore internationally recognized definitions of legitimacy, which suggest that not only is Assad Syria's legitimate president, but that the Russian air campaign, conducted on the request of Syria's government, is in fact the only legitimate use of foreign air power on Syrian territory.

    As for the suggestion that Russia may not be sufficiently active in engaging ISIL, and that Russian strikes might be aimed against other rebels opposed to Assad, it's simply worth recalling the analysis of French counterterrorism expert Alain Rodier, who explained to Le Figaro earlier this month that aside from ISIL and the Nusra Front, there are literally "hundreds" of Islamist groups operating in Syria. What is the basis for the president's criticism of Syrian ground and Russian air operations against these groups? Is he really suggesting that jihadist terrorism should not be targeted, if it is not operating under the ISIL flag?

    Asked whether it will be possible to convince Putin on Assad's "illegitimacy" and to come to the negotiating table, Obama noted that "what's interesting is we've already seen I think a growing awareness on the part of the Russians after several weeks now of fairly high paced bombing that they're not going to win this militarily. I think they understand that. They may not admit it publicly, but you're already starting to see indications of that."

    The president's definitions of military success in Syria aside, it's worth pointing out, as a number of analysts already have, that Syrians themselves have deemed Russia's month and a half long campaign of airstrikes to be much more effective than the US-led coalition's year and a half long effort, costing less, leading to an increase in Syrian army offensives against the terrorists, and resulting in over a million Syrians returning home from refugee camps abroad. What fantastical successes Obama may want from the Russian effort in such a short period of time remains unclear.

    Ultimately, Obama told his interviewer that he finds it unfortunate that the Russians have "not yet come to conclusion that Assad can't be part of a new Syria." With this in mind, however, the president noted that he thinks "it's going to take some time for [Russia] to get there. But our goal here, and John Kerry, I think, has done outstanding work in starting to create a platform and a set of principles whereby we agree that a political solution is what's required, that it has to be inclusive, that there's going to be a transition. And, by bringing in the Iranians and the Russians, which is tough for us and tough for a number of our coalition allies…we're starting to shape who are the groups that could responsibly govern Syria."

    The president could not seem to clarify how exactly US diplomacy will be able to convince Moscow and Tehran to abandon its ally in Damascus, but asserted that "if we can keep pushing on that diplomatic track even as we're squeezing ISIL…then what you see over the course of the next year is I think the possibility that our 60-member coalition and the approach that we're taking is one that Russia [may join]."


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