Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic efforts, preparations for the “Geneva II” peace conference on Syria’s civil war are already foundering. The rebel movement has become increasingly radicalized against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and more fractured. A newly confident Assad, meanwhile, has somewhat relegitimized himself as a signatory to a new chemical-weapons ban negotiated by the United States and Russia under U.N. auspices, which his government is tasked with implementing over the next year. Defying global opprobrium over his use of sarin gas, Assad has also positioned himself in a series of high-profile TV interviews as a preferable alternative to Islamist rebels who want to create a fundamentalist state.
All of which should prompt a reexamination of the first Geneva conference in the summer of 2012, on which Kerry’s new push for peace is based. According to some officials involved, perhaps the greatest tragedy of Syria is that, some 80,000 lives ago, President Obama might have had within his grasp a workable plan to end the violence, one that is far less possible now. But amid the politics of the 2012 presidential election — when GOP nominee Mitt Romney regularly accused Obama of being “soft” — the administration did little to make it work and simply took a hard line against Assad, angering the special U.N. Syria envoy, Kofi Annan, and prompting the former U.N. secretary-general to quit, according to several officials involved.
Former members of Annan’s negotiating team say that after then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 30, 2012, jointly signed a communique drafted by Annan, which called for a political “transition” in Syria, there was as much momentum for a deal then as Kerry achieved a year later on chemical weapons. Afterward, Annan flew from Geneva to Moscow and gained what he believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent to begin to quietly push Assad out. But suddenly both the U.S. and Britain issued public calls for Assad’s ouster, and Annan felt blindsided. Immediately afterward, against his advice, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice offered up a “Chapter 7” resolution opening the door to force against Assad, which Annan felt was premature.
Annan resigned a month later. At the time, the soft-spoken Ghanaian diplomat was cagey about his reasons, appearing to blame all sides. “I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved,” Annan told reporters in Geneva. He also criticized what he called “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council.” But former senior aides and U.N. officials say in private that Annan blamed the Obama administration in large part. “The U.S. couldn’t even stand by an agreement that the secretary of State had signed in Geneva,” said one former close Annan aide who would discuss the talks only on condition of anonymity. “He quit in frustration. I think it was clear that the White House was very worried about seeming to do a deal with the Russians and being soft on Putin during the campaign.” One of the biggest Republican criticisms of Obama at the time was that he had, in an embarrassing “open mike” moment, promised Moscow more “flexibility” on missile defense after the election.
Administration officials deny this account, as do some who were involved at the State Department. Nonetheless, Frederic Hof, a U.S. ambassador who was Clinton’s special adviser for transition in Syria at the time, agrees that the negotiations could have been better handled. The harsh demand that “Assad must go” voiced by Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague was “gratuitous,” says Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Perhaps a greater effort should have been made to give Annan the time to do his due diligence.” Still, Hof says he saw no evidence that the administration was posturing for political reasons.
A current senior State Department official concedes that one of the problems with making the Annan communique work may have been Clinton’s distaste for getting involved in extended direct mediation, in dramatic contrast to her successor, who has opened up negotiations on several fronts at once — with Syria and the Russians, with Iran, and between the Palestinians and Israelis. “We’ve made more trips to the Mideast in the last nine months than she made in four years,” says this official.
While Clinton excelled at “soft” power — selling America’s message abroad — one emerging criticism of her four-year tenure at State was that she consistently avoided getting her hands dirty with direct mediation. Clinton agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots — in particular the Mideast and south-central Asia — to special envoys such as George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, and she rarely stepped in as each of them failed. Veteran reporter David Rohde, in an assessment as Clinton was leaving office in January, suggested that Clinton wanted to avoid embarrassment or failure ahead of a 2016 presidential run; he quoted one State Department official as saying that he was “really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.”
Still, Hof and critics of the administration say a 2012 peace deal would have been a steep, uphill climb at best. “I think there were a couple of problems that raised their ugly head in the immediate wake of this thing being signed on June 30,” Hof says. “Number one, it became clear to both Annan and the Russians that Assad had no interest whatever in being “˜transitioned.’ He was able to read the text of the Geneva agreement quite accurately…. By the same token, the opposition was unhappy with Kofi’s handwork because there was no explicit language to the effect that Assad will step down.”
But what happened next was that the Geneva communique disappeared onto a dusty shelf; even Kerry when he took office chided the Obama administration for being “late” in pushing peace. And what Kerry faces now is a newly assertive Assad and a vastly more fractured opposition riddled with extreme elements that want no part of a U.S.- or Western-brokered peace. All of which makes that missed opportunity even more painful.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”