The projection of power doesn't always solve problems. There are times when inaction is desirable. One might even make a case for U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, albeit I do not make it and do not embrace it.
When American interests are imperiled and U.S. allies are drifting into conflict, inaction is unacceptable.
The problem is that when American interests are imperiled and U.S. allies are drifting into conflict, inaction is unacceptable. Perhaps what is even more unacceptable is actively adopting the position of presumptive enemies.
Without much fanfare, U.S. officials have agreed to Iran's participation in a multinational conference on the civil war in Syria, the first example of post nuclear deal "cooperation."
The talks will bring together diplomats from a dozen countries that have strikingly different positions on the Syrian War - and whose ties to Iran verge from warm to frigid.
In the frigid category is Saudi Arabia, a regional rival politically and religiously. Since 400 Iranian pilgrims died last month in Mina outside of Mecca during the hajj, relations have regressed to icy.
Russia and Iran are backers of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, while the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia contend the only way to tamp down the civil war is deposing Assad. It may well be that the only long term multi-national framework that could work is a Russian-Iranian named successor who would continue to do their bidding, yet is someone who could give President Obama cover for a Pyrric victory.
Clearly, the motivation for the meeting and the apparent urgency is the wave of refugees that threaten to destabilize nations bordering Syria. Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said, "Everyone understands the danger, not only to the region, but to global security." As is the case with every crisis identified by U.N. officials, the answer is "more" - more money. What hasn't been addressed is why Saudi Arabia hasn't taken more refugees and refuses to consider this option.
The imponderable in these discussions will be Putin's flexibility. It is already obvious that Russia is dictating policy to the United States. In crass terms, it has forced the U.S. to choose between Assad and ISIL. If these negotiations mean anything to the Secretary of State - who has been consistently outwitted - it is whether there is some concession he can get from Russia, even if it is the installation of a puppet government in Syria that gives Assad the boot. That has been the Americans stance until now. As a result of "negotiations", the U.S. has agreed to keep Assad installed "for the foreseeable future."
All will agree ISIL is a regional threat, but the only nations with boots on the ground, Iran and Russia, are more interested in attacking the rebels opposing Assad than Daesh forces. In fact, ISIL created chaos works to the advantage of Putin since his aircraft clear the skies and his troops take positions. Middle East leaders do not have to be reminded about the regional "strong horse.
While the U.S. has a seat at the negotiating table, it hasn't any leverage as the decision on Assad suggests. The Turks have the military means to degrade ISIL, but are far more interested in bombing Kurdish rebels who pose a threat to Erdogan's interests. The Saudi's want to see Assad deposed - and are willing to support rebel troops to make that happen - but will not deploy their own forces in the effort. And the U.S. channels military equipment to the Peshmerga through Iraq with most of it ending up in the Iranian black market. In fact, the Peshmerga forces rely on World War II vintage weapons when they can get them.
Hence Secretary Kerry is a recalcitrant puppet, but a puppet nevertheless, with Russian and Iranian ventriloquists pulling the strings. Many contend talks are better than war. Of course, that is true, to a point. But when your interests are defined by others, when your bargaining leverage has been withdrawn, when you proceed to deepen your nation in a quandary of hopeless options, it might be better to avoid negotiations entirely.