Ammar Abdulhamid

The Russian Proposal: Opportunity or Trap?

Obama is at a crossroads.

It might have been a misstatement or a gaffe on part of American Secretary of State John Kerry, but the Russians pounced on it and turned it into a full-fledged proposal to the Assad regime, who accepted it. Now, depending on how President Obama handles it, this unexpected development could turn either into a great opportunity to end the bloody conflict in Syria, or a trap that will prolong it.


Both scenarios start with President Obama accepting the proposal. It is what happens next that will make all the difference. 


Should the President accept the proposal and take the lead in providing a plan and a timetable for implementation, and should this plan link the issue of chemical weapons to the ongoing conflict, then, we might indeed have an opportunity to end the conflict.  


This would work if the plan included the following points:


1. The Administration would stop seeking Congressional approval for strikes against the Assad regime in exchange for Assad’s putting the entire stockpile of chemical weapons in his possession under international custody.

2. Since the Administration cannot endorse sending inspectors to an active war zone, it should insist on having the Assad regime unilaterally declare a ceasefire and stop all ground hostilities. Its troops should return to barracks, its militias should cease operations, and the aerial bombing campaigns against rebel strongholds should immediately stop.

3. Inspectors will then be sent to Syria where they should be given complete access to all sites they deem relevant.

4. Preparation for a new peace conference in Geneva, the so-called Geneva II, should proceed in parallel to inspection and dismantling activities on the ground.

5. Moreover, the invitation to the conference in Geneva must include a stipulation for the immediate departure of Assad and his top cronies as a necessary precondition. Albeit, some in the administration might push for making this particular demand more a result than a precondition for participation.

6. President Obama will stipulate that any stalling or infringement by the Assad regime would result in limited punitive strikes without returning to Congress under the usual executive privilege.

7. Finally, Assad should be given 48 hours to accept the plan or face the consequences under the executive privilege.


Following this plan will allow President Obama to extricate himself from his current embarrassing face-off with Congress, while putting something on the table that can potentially end the conflict, and with it the suffering of millions of Syrians. Naturally, there will be pushback from Russia, not to mention the Assad regime, since the survival of the regime continues to be the ultimate gambit of both sides. But, in this scenario, the President will now have retrieved the initiative and can go ahead with the planned strikes without seeming to challenge the international community.


But the whole thing could easily turn into a new major embarrassment to the administration should it allow Russia and the Assad regime to dictate the terms of the plan, and put an implementation schedule that will give Assad more time to pound the rebels, even while appearing to be cooperating, just as he did in previous instances when UN and Arab League monitors were on the ground.


Indeed, the possibility that this new development could be used to seal President Obama’s defeat in Congress is great. Everything depends on how fast the President act on this development, and on how committed he is to achieving his ultimate policy goal in Syria, which he announced back in the summer of 2011: the ouster of Assad.


Once again, the ball is back in President Obama’s court. Let's see how he plays it this time around. The world is watching, and the fate of millions is at stake.


Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian dissident and the president of the Tharwa Foundation. He currently divides his time between Washington, D.C. and Turkey where he works with local Syrian activists on developing long-term peace-building and democracy-promotion programs. 

Obama is at a crossroads. (Image via AFP)

"Indeed, the possibility that this new development could be used to seal President Obama’s defeat in Congress is great."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Dream on, Mr. Abdulhamid. Your proposals/pre-conditions will not be accepted by Assad as they amount to his complete surrender. We - in Lebanon - have learned firsthand the political tactics of the Assad regime: Stall with endless meanderings around side issues until the other side forgets what the main issue was. Russia has given Assad the window to a maize and labyrinth in which you seem to have fallen headfirst: Your proposals are eaxctly what the Assad regime wants: Many demands of dubious utility and enforcability, over which Assad will have a feast of counter-proposals, equally bottomless and futile. Assad has already won this match with the mere appearance of his willingness to deal, when in fact he has no will to strike a deal. He is stalling for time and derailing Westerners and Americans into a side track. You only best bet - as "Free Syrians" (I hope you know what this really means) - is to keep fighting ON YOUR OWN, WITH YOUR OWN BODIES AND CITIES, and WITHOUT RECOURSE TO THOSE WESTERNERS YOU SO HATE DEEP DOWN. If your cause is just, you will surely win, and it would be a victory with DIGNITY, HONOR and PRIDE, instead of jamming the Western Crusaders into your swamp, then have to owe them this debt of gratitude for generations to come. Learn from your own history.

    September 10, 2013