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With Democratic Process In Shambles Across Syria, Good Solutions Seem Unlikely


As people in Madaya and Aleppo and Homs and all over Syria try to get through their days, the diplomatic process is in pieces. Of all the solutions proposed, it seems the one thing everyone agrees on is there are no good ones. Aaron David Miller is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. He served as an adviser to secretaries of state of both Republican and Democratic administrations. Aaron, thanks very much for being back with us.

AARON DAVID MILLER: A pleasure to be here.

SIMON: Did Russia use those talks between Russia and the U.S. - did the Assad regime use them to buy time while they destroyed Aleppo and other areas?

MILLER: I mean, now in hindsight, I don't think there's any doubt that Putin used phony cease-fire talks as a sort of clever way to allow Moscow to keep one hand in diplomacy and to calibrate it but also to keep its feet on the Syrian battlefield in defense of Assad.

SIMON: Is it worthwhile to make another attempt to talk to Russia?

MILLER: You know, I think Mr. Putin is most comfortable, frankly, when he has a diplomatic process going and a military process on the ground. He fashions himself not simply a combatant but a broker and a mediator and a great power. It is high time that the United States remove right now this sort of Potemkin Village fraud in which Mr. Putin seems to have the best of both worlds. Pull it away, keep the focus on Vladimir Putin as aggressor, tar him with the responsibility and the Assads for the humanitarian catastrophe and don't give him the legitimacy to argue that in fact he can play both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic corridors of Geneva and New York.

SIMON: There have been reports again that the administration's considering applying more U.S. military power in the region. How do you feel about that?

MILLER: You know, I think it's late for the U.S. to intercede, and I think this administration largely in response to its predecessor has clearly determined that it needs to be very cautious and risk averse on Syria. You could implement any number of what I would argue are half measures - no-fly zones, demilitarized area safe zones, humanitarian corridors. You could supply more sophisticated weapons to the rebels. You could attack Assad directly. And I think the one question I would ask is Putin, Assad, the Iranians, Hezbollah, are prepared to die in defense of their national interests in Syria.

And the question, really, Scott, is are we? If in fact Congress is willing to empower the president, the American public is prepared for a major investment in another Middle Eastern war in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, then sure, make Syria a major priority - perhaps the priority. But it's not just the day-after problem for the United States in Syria. It's the decade-after problem.

SIMON: At the same time, isn't there a cost, even a lot of cost, for doing nothing?

MILLER: I think that Obama will be judged very harshly as a consequence of his failure to do more. So yes, there is a cost, but I would argue to you that with respect to humanitarian interventions, this is not just a Barack Obama problem. From the Nazi Holocaust to Cambodia to Rwanda to Darfur to Congo, the United States simply does not have, for any number of reasons, a consistent or terribly uplifting record in terms of interceding in conflicts which involve mass slaughter and mass killing. It is a Republican problem, it's a Democratic problem, and it's an American problem.

SIMON: Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars and the author most recently of "The End of Greatness." Thanks so much for being with us.

MILLER: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.