Complexity defies attempts
to start Geneva peace process
British Foreign Secretary William Hague is playing a co-starring role in the Syria peace process. Click image to enlarge.
AS THE VIOLENCE in Syria continues to spiral out of control, attempts to begin a process to end it are stumbling.
But the complexity cannot be an excuse to not try.
The effects of the daily slaughter of innocents are multiplying in unexpected ways. Saudi Arabia, supporting the rebels, is distraught over US inaction. Iran, a bulwark of the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, is trying (on a separate track) to improve relations with the west.
Refugees are flooding into Lebanon and Jordan, straining those tiny territories. Many are fleeing to Europe.
And the Obama administration is riven by division over what to do, seeing no good options.
THE LATEST PUSH for a second Geneva conference to kick-start peace talks seems to be running into obstacles just days after it was announced.
We see this in the Telegraph newspaper in the UK in Syria: West attempts to salvage Geneva peace conference.
Reporting Tuesday from Istanbul, Ruth Sherlock writes:
The Telegraph story on Wednesday about problems with talks on Syria. Click image to enlarge.
“Britain and the West attempted to salvage a plan for peace talks on Syria next month, making overtures to the disenchanted opposition in an attempt to bring them to the negotiating table.
“William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, reiterated comments made earlier this week that Bashar al-Assad would have no role in a transitional government.”
We have reported many times on the desperate situation in Syria, both before and after a fact-finding trip to the region in September.
First we noted in July that there are No good options for U.S. in Syria.
Then, when a military strike was imminent we wrote:
Obama must pick ‘least bad’ option
The overall complexity of the evolving American position on the civil war was thoroughly detailed Wednesday in The New York Times in an indispensable investigation headlined: Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed
Mark Mazzetti, Robert F. Worth and Michael R. Gordon report:
[As Secretary of State John] Kerry held meetings in London with representatives of Syrian opposition groups on Tuesday in the hopes of reviving a proposed peace conference, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough appeared dim.
“Mr. Assad’s position is stronger, and the rebellion has grown weaker, more fragmented and more dominated by Islamic radical factions.”
This, perhaps, is the most complex issue confounding policy makers everywhere: who exactly is fighting whom and for what?
OF SOME HELP is the BBC News summary of the situation from Oct. 17.
In Syria crisis: Guide to armed and political opposition the BBC outlines the main players:
“There are believed to be as many as 1,000 armed opposition groups in Syria, commanding an estimated 100,000 fighters,” the report says.
The New York Times in-depth investigation of the Obama administration’s Syria response team. Click image to enlarge.
“Many of the groups are small and operate on a local level, but a number have emerged as powerful forces with affiliates across the country or formed alliances with other groups that share a similar agenda.”
The BBC website lists as the most prominent the Supreme Military Council Of The Free Syrian Army.
“The Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed in August 2011 by army deserters based in Turkey, led by Col Riad al-Asaad. Its banner was soon adopted by armed groups that began appearing across the country. Despite this, the FSA’s leaders had little or no operational control over what was happening on the ground in Syria.”
The multiplicity of opposing factions is one reason the plans for a second attempt at a Geneva peace conference are so tentative, at best.
The Telegraph noted this in its Tuesday report headlined: Syria talks: Geneva meeting in doubt over fractured opposition
“The Geneva peace summit on Syria was hanging in the balance today after the main exiled opposition group said it could not guarantee its attendance, despite intense pressure from the United States and Britain,” wrote Alex Spillius.
The BBC News guide to combatants in Syria. Click image to enlarge.
“After a meeting of 11 Western and Middle Eastern [nations] in London, representatives of the Syrian National Coalition said that agreeing to show up in Geneva in late November would have been a betrayal of the Syrian people.
“The so-called Geneva II conference has been pencilled in for Nov 23-24, and is regarded as the best, if slender, chance of finding a political solution to Syria’s bloody civil war, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.”
It is little wonder the Obama administration has seemingly been making it up as it went along with the its policy on Syria.
In The New York Times on Wednesday we learn:
“A close examination of how the Obama administration finds itself at this point … starts with a deeply ambivalent president who has presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known.
“Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama’s own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East.”
It is an enormously complicated situation, made even more so by domestic considerations. After the disastrous and costly nation-building misadventures of the Bush/Cheney years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US electorate is weary of war.
This was clearly evident in September in public opposition to the president’s plan for a missile strike on Syria. It further muddies the administration’s internal debate.
But sitting on the sidelines while the Middle East implodes is not an option. The US is the only country with the resources and means to play a leading role in solving this seemingly intractable problem.
Unequivocally, it must do so.
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