More telling, when it comes to Russian thinking, is the fact that Putin kept Kerry waiting for three hours, and that intelligence reports surfaced just after Kerry left that Russia was completing a sale of sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to Syria. Such missiles will give Assad far greater protection against air attack, including future Israeli attempts to prevent the transfer of missiles to the radical Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
No hint here that Putin is ready to abandon Assad.
Moreover, all signs indicate that Assad still believes he can outlast the opposition, especially since Obama is so clearly unwilling to help it in a meaningful way.
Hof believes Assad’s suspected limited use of chemical weapons was meant to signal to any waverers in his security circle that Obama would not honor his declared “red line.” “He wanted to reassure his supporters that the West would not intervene,” the former diplomat told me.
Hof also believes there will be no diplomatic breakthrough unless the military balance shifts: Only if Russia believes its proxy could lose might Putin decide the time has come to pressure Assad. I agree.
Changing the balance would not require U.S. boots on the ground, nor should it involve U.S. planes and missiles. But it would require additional military aid from the United States and its allies and a far greater U.S. role — led from the top — in ensuring that aid is channeled solely through the opposition’s new Supreme Military Council.
Given that U.S. commitment, it would be possible to prevent additional weapons from flowing to jihadis. The fact is that the jihadis already have far more access to heavy weapons than the CIA-vetted opposition commanders we claim to support.
Unless the military balance shifts, talk of diplomacy is little more than an excuse to ignore atrocities and red lines. The choice is not between diplomacy and greater U.S. involvement. Without the latter, the former will fail.