Assad and Putin are playing us for fools

Russia and Syria’s Assad regime are “playing us for fools”, says Roger Boyes in The Times. “Chemical disarmament, a decision foisted on Assad by a suddenly co-operative Kremlin, seemed to do everyone a favour.” It saved face in Britain and America, where there was no appetite for a military strike. However, it also extended Assad’s political life and increased Moscow’s influence in the region.

Assad has just missed a deadline on New Year’s Eve for chemical disarmament and nothing has been solved: militarily, Assad is still holding the line, and his argument that the “only alternative to him is jihadist chaos has been bought by many Western politicians”. It’s time to prioritise the Syrian people.

The death toll now exceeds 120,000 and there are more than two million Syrian refugees outside the country. “The humanitarian case for a no-fly zone, once dismissed as too risky and difficult to implement, is now compelling.”

Western policy has been “badly adrift”, agrees Roula Khalaf in the FT, but there’s not much we can do about it. The Syrian National Coalition (which includes the Free Syrian Army) that wanted to be the political face of the rebel movement “never had a chance” to do so, “since its survival – and its very relevance – always depended on whether it could deliver the Western help it promised to Syrians”.

The idea that Bashar al-Assad will agree to hand power to a transitional authority (the basis of the American-Russia sponsored peace conference in Switzerland later this month) was “never persuasive” and today Assad can more credibly claim that the rebels do not offer an alternative to his rule. “Just like the coalition they back, America and its Western partners have very little influence over what happens in Syria.”

That doesn’t mean that America shouldn’t intervene on humanitarian grounds, says The Washington Post. President Barack Obama’s security adviser, Susan Rice, says that America is failing to act because “there’s no basis in international law to intervene”. Yet during the famine in Darfur she seemed to have a different view, championing the United Nations’ “responsibility to protect”.

In 2009, when Rice was serving as Obama’s ambassador to the UN, she also said that, “we all know the greatest obstacle to swift action in the face of sudden atrocity is, ultimately, political will”.