Assad Has Finally Won. Washington Is Talking to Him
By making himself an immovable object, stuck hard in the way of the combined US-Russian effort to come to grips with the Islamic State bane, Syrian President Bashar Assad has maneuvered President Barack Obama into acknowledging that he is there to stay and must be addressed.
This latest turn in the fortunes of the infamous ruler, who savaged his own people for six years, fragmented his country and brought it to ruin, is reported here by DEBKA Weekly.
Cold-blooded as ever, Assad issued a decree Sunday, July 3, to install a new government in Damascus under the prime minister he appointed on June 22: the former electricity minister Emad Khamis, an old crony and member of Assad's Baath political party since 1977.
The lineup announced on state media kept his trusted stalwarts in place at the head of the key defense, foreign affairs and interior portfolios.
Just a month ago, there was certainty in the best-informed circles in Washington, the Middle East – and even the Kremlin – that the Syrian dictator’s days were numbered. But, not for the first time, Assad turned the tables on his foes and proved that none had the power to take him down or force him into exile against his will.
This latest reversal in his fortunes did not derive from any new prowess displayed by the Syrian army, which is still unequal to defeating rebel forces or winning the day on any of its various fronts – even with the massive help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah.
Its source was the White House in Washington where an urgent re-evaluation of the military odds took place.
The failure of the US-backed New Syrian Army’s operation against ISIS near Al-Bukamal, with heavy casualties and embarrassing losses in military equipment, convinced President Obama that to vanquish the jihadis, America needed to team up closely with Russia – even at the cost of opening a channel of communication with the Assad regime.
In accordance with his new plan, our Washington sources report exclusively that President Obama secretly ordered the US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk to begin direct back-channel negotiations with insiders closest to President Assad.
In other words, he opened up a direct line of communication with Assad.
Our sources further report that Assad responded by appointing Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and the Syrian intelligence chief, Gen. Ali Mamlouk to lead the negotiations with Brett McGurk.
This step evolved from the secret plan that Obama forwarded to Russian President Vladimir Putin the last week of June for deepening the cooperation between their armies in Syria and Iraq for the war on ISIS.
It was preceded by weeks of negotiations and heated deliberation inside the Obama administration.
The plan was built around a US commitment to join the Russian air force in the shared targeting and coordination of an expanded bombing campaign to destroy Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm, the rebel Nusra Front, which is a major thorn in the side of the Assad regime.
Such US-Russian cooperation on an unprecedented scale was long sought by Moscow.
The plan, personally approved by President Obama with strong support from Secretary of State John F. Kerry, was opposed by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and high-placed US military and intelligence circles. They ultimately went along with the president’s decision.
And so, implementation of the new Obama blueprint for tightened military cooperation with the Russians in Syria swung forward last week. Its opponents in Washington were not let in on the secret presidential directive factored into the plan to reopen contacts with the Assad regime
The day that the secret talks between Brett McGurk and the Syrian representatives began, Assad installed a new cabinet in Damascus. Among his first cabinet appointments was that of the former governor of the Syrian central bank Adeeb Mayaleh, who acted to rescue the local currency during its steep falls against the dollar, as Economy Minister.
Assad was sending out a broad hint that his hand was already out for US financial aid to start the vast task of rehabilitating the devastated country – under his rule.