PARIS -- As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his Russian counterparts this week in Moscow to discuss Syria, much of the world is wondering what America's endgame is. But what if we are already witnessing it? What if America's ultimate exit strategy for the Syrian conflict is to have it grind on ad infinitum because there's very little advantage to doing anything else?
Increasingly, it's Russia that has the most to lose from the ongoing hostilities in Syria. What if America has successfully applied the old Soviet-era (and judo) subversion tactic of allowing an opponent to fully follow through with their hardest punch to the point of bringing harm upon themselves, rather than daring to block the blow at one's own risk?
What would America get by ending the Syrian conflict? Not much compared with what it gets from a prolongation. Conflict keeps some of the less savory actors of the region -- al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran's Quds Force -- busy fighting and depleting their resources while Israel keeps the whole mess contained. If they're all drawn into Syria for the time being, they're less likely to be blowing up things for kicks on a Friday night.
Meanwhile, various Western security contractors are making a few bucks off black ops. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are in on the anti-Assad action, blowing cash on staging opposition efforts in Turkey, which has long been hoping to score some brownie points in its ongoing bid for European Union membership. Since Qatar is the same nation that blew millions to pay David Beckham to play soccer for a few months in Paris, it's not hard to imagine that it would bankroll the Syrian opposition purely for the entertainment value. Putting this in fiscal perspective, it would be like a normal person paying 10 bucks to see a movie.
Kerry and America would apparently like Russia's help in negotiating a resolution to the conflict. However it responds, Russia cannot win. And over time, its losses can only continue to grow.
Russia has criticized America and its allies for their role in materially supporting the Syrian opposition, for obvious reasons. Russia is Syria's largest arms supplier and has been caught sending weapons to Syria throughout the conflict. Earlier this year, a Russian ship flying the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was found to be carrying ammunition bound for Syria after it was forced to dock in Cyprus during a storm. Russia claims that such shipments aren't illegal -- though they would be if not for Russia repeatedly blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions to impose sanctions against Syria.