United States, Russia Gulf Widens With Syria Talks Collapse

The United States has placed a large portion of the blame on Russia for the collapsed peace talks over Syria that were taking place in Geneva. The goal of the negotiations, hosted by the United Nations, was to find a political means of stopping the war in Syria. The United States declared that the Russians and their Syrian allies want to continue to use military force to put an end to the conflict that began in earnest in 2011.

Tensions have been high between Syria and the United States since Bashar al-Assad took control of the country in June 2000. This renewed tension that arose during the Bush administration came after several years of alliances between Syria under the current Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, and U.S.-led coalitions in the region. Changes in policy within Syria in the early years of Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, along with a suspicion that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction, led one of Bush’s representatives to label Syria as a member of the “Axis of Evil,” according to a timeline published by BBC News.

While the Bush administration was suspicious of Assad’s regime, European leaders were somewhat comforted by the presence of Syria’s new leader. Assad had attended Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Britain’s top officer training academy. In addition, Assad’s wife, Asma al-Assad, was born, raised and educated in Britain. These European allies of the United States felt that, in Assad, they had a leader with Western sensibilities.

Assad's Western education and British wife comfort United States, European leaders

[Photo by Aijaz Rahi/AP]

Western support for Assad increased under the Obama administration. In 2009, the United States attempted to renew relations with Syria by sending a representative from the U.S. Department of State on a mission of diplomacy. The following year, the United States posted an ambassador to Syria, which is a position that had gone unfilled for five years. Unfortunately, the renewed diplomacy between the United States and Syria was short-lived, with sanctions imposed only three months later.

In 2011 and 2012, the West found itself inundated with reports of government attacks leaving Syrian civilians dead. European leaders forced Syrian diplomats out of their countries and expressed their appall at Assad’s disregard for the lives of his own people. Meanwhile in the United States, President Obama did not take direct action but issued warnings to Assad concerning the use of chemical weapons. Finally, in 2012, pressure forced Obama to support the Syrian rebels in their bid to overthrow the Assad regime.

In 2013, the world saw the rise of the group that is now known as Islamic State. Throughout the Syrian conflict, Assad had repeatedly vowed that the rebel faction was the real danger, not only to the Syrian people but also to the entire region. As IS continued to expand beyond Syria’s borders, some world leaders, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, agreed with Assad’s claim, yet the United States and its allies continued to support the Syrian rebels.

In the fall of 2015, Putin announced that Russian airstrikes on IS targets would commence. In the United States and Europe, suspicions arose that Russia was actually targeting the Syrian rebels due to Putin’s support for Assad. Tensions began to heighten yet again between the United States and Russia.

Today, tensions remain high between the two superpowers because of differences of opinion. Russia continues to back the Assad regime, while the U.S.-led coalition continues to back the Syrian rebels. Russia appears determined to solve the conflict militarily, while the United States prefers a diplomatic approach. The suspension of the peace talks in Geneva has furthered widened the divide between the two countries, according to a report published in The New York Times on Wednesday.

In an unexpected twist, the tensions over the conflict in Syria are not limited to diplomatic circles. People in the United States and Europe have begun to question Obama’s support for the Syrian rebels as IS attacks have spread into mainland Europe. Social media users have shown strong support for Russia’s military involvement, and many would like greater military involvement from the United States and European countries. Even U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher tweeted his support of Russian involvement.

As the gulf between the United States and Russia widens, so does the gulf between the U.S. population and its government’s stance on the conflict in Syria. The peace talks in Geneva are scheduled to resume on Feb. 25. One can only hope that a diplomatic solution can help end the conflict in Syria and the internal conflict over the issue in the United States.

[SPUTNIK, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]