January 15, 2014

Five Reasons Why Geneva II Will Not Lead To A Negotiated Peace

Next week, organizers of the Geneva II Middle East peace conference, led by world powers the United States and Russia, will hope to arrange a compromise between the Assad regime and the mainstream opposition that will put an end to the three-year long conflict and lead the country towards a new transitional government. The conference will be held in Montreux, Switzerland. 

Back in Augut, Lakhdar Brahimi, UN envoy to Syria, said that "there is no military solution." This week, Secretary of State John Kerry said there is a possibility of local ceasefires in Syria.

Although optimism is always good, especially in the darkest of times, below are five reasons why Geneva II will not lead to a negotiated peace.

#1. Syria's leading political opposition group that is based inside the country says it will not participate in the Geneva II peace talks. Other opposition parties have also stated their disillusionment with the coalition-building process ahead of the conference. Here is an excerpt from, "Syria’s internal political opposition may not attend Geneva II" by Antoun Issa, Al-Monitor, January 14:
Haytham al-Manna, a senior leader in the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), was quoted by Al-Mayadeen as saying that the group would not attend the talks in Montreaux on Jan. 22.
#2. The Syrian National Council, the umbrella group that represents the mainstream and external political opposition, said on Friday, January 3, that it will not attend the conference. Here is an excerpt from "Syrian National Council Rejects Geneva II Talks" Israel National News, January 5:
“After meetings with many international delegations in recent weeks... the Syrian National Council (SNC) confirms it sees no reason to attend the Geneva conference,” SNC member Samir Nashar was quoted as having told the AFP news agency.

Although the National Coalition which has still not taken a definitive decision, Nashar predicted that the umbrella organization would similarly not show up.

The statement reiterates an earlier announcement by SNC president George Sabra in October that the group had taken a “firm decision” not to attend the talks. Sabra had also said the SNC would withdraw from the National Coalition if it decided to attend.
#3. The diverse nature of the opposition to the Assad regime, which ranges from fanatical transnational Jihadists who seek to create a rigid Islamic state to Kurds who want local autonomy and self-governance, makes its political positions going into Geneva inherently weak, contradictory, and and confused. The opposition is not and will never be a single body. Each group has its own unique interests, vision, biases, and strategy. The alphabet soup of opposition groups don't even see eye to eye on the minutest of details, so the idea that they will come to an agreement to discuss big picture solutions at Geneva II is just silly.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) says it will not participate in any international peace conference until Assad steps down from power, while the main Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), "calls for a dialogue with the regime to solve the conflict peacefully" (Al-Monitor, December 30). Other groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood say that conditions have to be met before they will attend Geneva II.

#4. Washington's decision to prevent the participation of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the Geneva II talks almost makes the conference null and void before it has even begun. Last week, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier "put Iran under the category of “necessary participants” for the conference to achieve progress. “We do not know to what extent the neighboring countries of Syria will participate in this process. This affects Iran and its participation in particular. These questions are still prompted. Nevertheless, I hope for [these issues] to be resolved in the upcoming days" (Al-Monitor, January 9).

For Washington to decide that the Islamic Republic of Iran can't participate in a peace conference involving a regional ally and a neighbour would be like an alien empire from a faraway galaxy coming down to Europe in 1918 with total cluelessness about the brutal war that was just fought and saying Germany cannot attend the peace treaty talks. Okay, maybe it's not exactly the same, but it usually doesn't turn out well whenever self-interested outsiders lead peace talks in war-battered regions where they have no stake, no standing, no history, and no real national interest to defend.

Not only should the Islamic Republic of Iran attend Geneva II, which there are good reasons for doing so, but Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan should all be key players at the talks. The latter four countries have been tasked with an impossible mission of providing shelter, aid, education, security, and medicine for the millions of Syrian refugees. They need this conflict to end more than anybody else.

#5. Assad is winning where it counts the most: the battlefield. The Syrian army is retaking territory that was previously seized by foreign-led rebel groups and radical Jihadist terrorist organizations. As long as the self-defeating opposition continues to cut each others' throats, Assad will be in a position to sit firm and completely avoid the negotiating table and continue taking the fight to his enemies.

From Assad's perspective Geneva II is a funny little dot on a scribbled up piece of paper that deserves no serious attention. Here is an excerpt from, "Syrian government forces advance as rebel infighting rages" by Oliver Holmes, Reuters, January 14:
The Syrian government has retaken territory around the northern city of Aleppo, the military said on Tuesday, after two weeks of rebel infighting that has weakened the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.

The internecine conflict among various rebel groups will allow Assad to portray himself as the only secular alternative in Syria to a radical Islamist regime when peace talks begin in Switzerland on January 22.
For more information about the Geneva II peace conference, check out these three articles:

Can the “Geneva II” Conference Bring Peace to Syria? (Marc Pierini, Carnegie Europe, December 20).

Former Syrian official backs Geneva political process (Antoun Issa, Al-Monitor, January 14).

The new pulse of Geneva II (Al-Monitor, January 12).