The US Secretary of State put a brave face on his negotiations with the Russians over the Syrian civil war, but in looking at the agreement that was reached, it's apparent that Kerry got virtually nothing from Moscow, only heightening the sense of American impotence.
Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement contains no hint of a diplomatic breakthrough. Indeed, diplomacy stands no chance unless President Obama first does what he has long avoided: takes the lead in helping the Syrian opposition break the military stalemate on the ground.
Take a look at what actually happened last week in Moscow. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said they would bring representatives of the Syrian government and opposition together to determine how to implement a plan for a political transition, based on a June 2012 agreement reached by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
But this accord has gone nowhere over the last year for compelling reasons. Neither Bashar al-Assad nor Moscow nor, for the most part, the opposition has shown any interest in it. And even when opposition leaders were willing to talk, Assad responded with atrocities, and Moscow did zip.
Did anything change last week in Moscow? Not much. True, Kerry publicly dropped the U.S. demand that "Assad must go," which had been regarded as a precondition for talks. That gesture, however, won't make the difference: The reason Assad has spurned the Geneva road map goes much deeper than that.
The Geneva document calls for a transitional government to be formed by mutual consent in negotiations between the government and opposition. That transitional government would exercise full executive power until a new government is elected.
Of course, opposition negotiators would never agree to a transitional government that includes Assad or his inner circle. But no one can imagine Assad voluntarily giving up power.
There's just no way that Assad is going to leave power voluntarily. And there is no way the Syrian opposition will talk to the Syria government unless Assad and his inner circle depart. Russia knows this which is why they felt perfectly safe in proposing a meeting between the government and the rebels under the auspices of the Geneva roadmap. Nothing will come of the proposal - except now, America has dropped its demand that Assad must leave before talks can start.
Truth be told, I wouldn't send Kerry to negotiate with my next door neighbor for use of his lawn mower, much less the fate of the Syrian people.