Bashar al-Assad’s army, together with its Iranian and Russian allies, has for several days subjected Eastern Ghouta—a rebel-held area outside Damascus that contains about 400,000 people—to intensive and indiscriminate bombardment. As has been the case repeatedly over the past few years, the Moscow-backed ceasefires and “humanitarian pauses” have done little to ease the suffering of Ghouta’s civilians. By relying mainly on diplomacy alone, argues Jennifer Cafarella, Washington is undermining its national interests.
The U.S. has repeatedly hoped in vain that diplomacy will stop or contain the slaughter. . . . Assad, [however], has hijacked this diplomatic approach, and the U.S. and United Nations have become complicit in the use of starvation as a weapon of war. Aid organizations route their deliveries through the Assad regime, which continues to block deliveries or redirect supplies to regime clients. The effect has been to give Assad’s sieges diplomatic cover. . . .
[This] diplomatic approach undermines other strategic interests. A successful “freeze” of the Syrian conflict, even if it occurred, would leave in place Iranian forces and Iran’s proxies, including Hizballah. It would prevent future military operations against al-Qaeda, which is embedded in opposition-held areas. These outcomes have already occurred on local levels in southern Syria, where Iran’s proxies and al-Qaeda are entrenched beneath the cover of the U.S.-backed “de-escalation” zone. . . .
American diplomats dealing with the Syrian crisis lack the leverage and credibility necessary to conduct effective diplomacy. The U.S. has used few other tools of national power to support them and has refused to contemplate using military force beyond self-defense, [as it did after the attack on American-backed forces two weeks ago], or tactical retaliation for the use of chemical weapons. Assad will continue to pursue all-out military victory as long the U.S. remains thus on the sidelines, and all diplomatic efforts except surrender will fail.