One week ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin propositioned the United States. Russia’s chief executive revealed that, in a phone conversation with President Donald Trump last Tuesday, he suggested that the U.S. should join Russia in creating and policing “safe zones” in Syria backed jointly by Russia, Turkey, and Iran. This is, on its face, laughable. How could anyone in the West think that legitimizing the actions of three illiberal powers, one of which is an American ally in name only, would benefit U.S. interests abroad? Enter the New York Times editorial board.

“After six years and with some 400,000 people killed, almost any plan to end or reduce the carnage in Syria would be welcome,” the Times editors noted. “So the Trump administration would be derelict if it did not give serious consideration to a plan for a cease-fire and safe zones brokered by Russia, with the backing of Turkey and Iran.”

The Times editors contend, correctly, that the Trump administration’s plan to arm anti-ISIS Kurdish factions directly will only further alienate Turkey. Ankara has deployed air and ground forces in Syria not to target ISIS but to attack Kurdish positions. This necessitated the deployment of American ground forces to the region to act as a deterrent against such aggression. As necessary as Turkish cooperation is for the United States in its campaign against ISIS in Syria, so, too, is the support of the region’s disaffected Sunnis, who have been the targets of Bashar al-Assad’s relentless air campaign (with the support of Russian and Iranian forces). How aligning with these anti-Western powers would advance that cause, the Times does not say.

Even more confounding was the fact that the Times appeared skeptical that these “safe zones,” maintained by a collection of rogue states, would be stable. They note that the Syrian government, a party to the talks that led to the creation of “safe zones” in rebel-held areas of the country, proceeded to seize the village of al-Zalakiyat near Hama on Sunday—under heavy bombardment, the Times neglected to add—despite the cease-fire.

Syria remains adamant that only soldiers loyal to Damascus or Russian forces will monitor these new “safe zones,” and not multinational forces or United Nations peacekeepers. To join or even consent to Russia policing territory in Syria is to forgive the crimes Moscow committed in its effort to put down the insurrection against Assad. Moscow colluded with Damascus or was an active participant in the bombing of civilian targets, including hospitals, and starvation campaigns targeting entire cities. The late Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, assured the world that the images of dead and shell-shocked children streaming out of the Syrian charnel house were faked and the subjects of those images mere actors.

Activists have documented for international observers how Moscow deployed cluster and incendiary munitions on civilian targets in Aleppo. They have further alleged that Iranian-backed militias were integral to closing off the city, maximizing civilian casualties. Iran has supported the Assad regime not just with the influx of regular army soldiers—an intervention that began as early as 2012—but with funding and materials support.  To align with Russia and Iran is to join with General Qassem Soleimani, arguably the architect of Russian intervention in Syria. Soleimani is directly responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, and to reward him and Iran with legitimacy would be to dishonor the memory of America’s fallen.

By the end of the Times editorial, the editors appear to talk themselves out of the utility of America’s participation in a Russian-Iranian-Turkish axis in Syria. They note that, while the prospects for this ceasefire are shaky and carving up the country is a suboptimal state of affairs, what other options are there? Desperation and a colossal failure of imagination do not justify America’s shedding its moral character, rewarding bad actors, and betraying the allied forces on the ground in Syria that have stood with the West these last seven years.

On Wednesday, the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Syrian “safe zones” were surely on the table. Here’s hoping the White House doesn’t take the New York Times’s advice.

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