DOD: Russia 'Doomed to Fail' in Syria, But WH Sees 'Couple Places of Common Ground'

Susan Jones | October 6, 2015 | 8:39am EDT
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In this photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, a Russian army pilot poses at a cockpit of SU-25M jet fighter at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. Russia has insisted that the airstrikes that began Wednesday are targeting the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's Syrian affiliates, but at least some of the strikes appear to have hit Western-backed rebel factions.(AP Photo/Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Photo via AP)

( - By supporting the Assad regime rather than a political transition inside Syria, Russia is "doomed to fail," Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters on Monday.

"Why is it doomed to fail?" Carter asked. "Because it will only inflame -- I've used the phrase, 'pour gasoline on the civil war of Syria.'

Carter said the U.S. approach is different: "It is to pursue the defeat of ISIL and a political transition in Syria at the same time.

"Russia seems to believe that you can have one without the other, and that's simply not realistic,' Carter continued. "So, theirs is not strategically well thought through, and is doomed to fail in its current form. If they can -- if they can and they're willing to adjust their approach, so that they're pursuing those two objectives simultaneously, we may be able to build a bridge to their position.

"But right now, they're way off track."

'Common ground'

At the White House on Monday, spokesman Josh Earnest was asked to explain where President Obama sees "common ground" between the U.S. and Russia in Syria.

"Well, there are a couple places of common ground," Earnest responded. "The first is that both the United States and Russia understand the significant threat that is posed by ISIL. We understand that this is just -- not just a destabilizing threat in the region, but also places -- poses a threat of varying degrees to our interests around the world. And that is one area of common ground.

"I -- you've heard me -- the president did the same thing -- raise significant concerns about the strategy that Russia has carried out in pursuit of that particular priority, and I think there are reasons to be skeptical that what they're doing is going to be effective in pursuit of that specific goal.

"But it is a goal that they have indicated nonetheless, and I don't think there's any reason to call into question that they -- about their true views on that."

But the head of NATO did question Russia's commitment to eradicating Islamic State terrorists. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels on Monday that he is concerned that the Russians are not targeting the Islamic State extremist group in Russia, but instead are attacking the U.S.-supported Syrian opposition and civilians.

Back at the White House, Earnest told reporters the other area of common ground involves a political transition inside Syria:

"There's an acknowledgment, I think, on the part of ... the Russians, that there's no military solution that can be imposed on Syria. That certainly is something that you've heard the president say on a number of occasions, and we welcome that observation and -- essentially, declaration -- from President Putin last week.

"So the fact that there needs to be a political transition is a starting point for conversations. But we've also made no bones about the fact that there's a difference of opinion about what that transition -- political transition looks like."

Earnest said Assad has "lost legitimacy" to lead his country: "So we're gonna continue to make the case that a political transition is necessary, and make -- I think, what is a pretty obvious observation that President Assad is not fit to lead that country."

Russia disagrees, and is now fighting those who would topple Assad if they could.

A reporter reminded Earnest that Russia's goal "is to prop up the regime and have a transition that may involve Assad still."

A number of people, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) say Putin is deliberately taking out Assad's political opponents -- the non-ISIS fighters -- leaving the United States with the choice of supporting either Assad or ISIS.

"He wants to eliminate any othr option to toppling Assad," Rubio told Fox News's Megyn Kelly Monday night.

"What Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad want to do is provide us with the choice between ISIS and Bashar Assad, that -- but -- and in order to do that, you take out the Free Syrian Army," McCain told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

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