Keeping up hope

February 25, 2014 - 1:23:23 am
What next for Syria after the collapse of the Geneva 2 conference? Not that expectations were high about the conference, but its complete failure would have disastrous consequences. The condition in Syria is so dire that what people are looking for is not an immediate and permanent solution, but any kind of small deal between the rivals that would bring some respite, temporary ceasefire, delivery of aid to the most affected, protection of the elderly and children and such crumbs which can make a huge difference to the lives of so many people.

The importance of the Geneva meet was that it was attended by the major Western powers and the Syrian parties – both the regime and the rebels. The meet came after months of intense efforts and in its first stage there was a minor achievement in that the elderly and children were allowed to be evacuated from some conflict areas. Then the talks got bogged down in the face of intransigence from the Syrian regime. President Bashar Al Assad’s representatives were not ready to discuss anything that would involve the ouster of their leader.

The atmosphere after the meet is grim and fighting is continuing in Syria, with scores of people dying every day. The participants of the peace conference left the venue dejected, with no idea of how to move forward. Even US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to distance himself from the failure of an initiative that he made the focus of the Obama administration’s Syria policy for nine crucial months. Last Sunday, he issued a statement blaming ‘the Assad regime’s obstruction’ for the failure. In a news conference the next day he faulted Russia for ‘enabling Assad to double down” on the battlefield “rather than come to the negotiating table in good faith.’ Kerry’s assessment is correct. The Syrian government was not serious about the talks and had never shown that it was serious. It didn’t even agree to the opening of humanitarian corridors.

This leaves the crucial question of what the West, especially the US, plans to do about Syria. Leaving hapless Syrians to be butchered by Assad’s forces will be a crime against humanity. The Obama administration has no thirst for any meaningful involvement in Syria now and Arabs had left the stage long ago. With Egypt and Libya still mired in chaos, Syria has been relegated to the background. 

Kerry now says that “the international community must use this recess in the Geneva talks to determine how best . . . to find a political solution.” But such appeals will not help. What is needed is a new policy on Syria, that will address the flaws of the past.