Odds stacked against fragile peace in Syria

Nile Bowie
Nile Bowie is an independent writer and current affairs commentator based in Singapore. Originally from New York City, he has lived in the Asia-Pacific region for nearly a decade and was previously a columnist with the Malaysian Reserve newspaper, in addition to working actively in non-governmental organisations and creative industries. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
Odds stacked against fragile peace in Syria
For anyone who has been critical of the Western narrative on Syria, the ongoing diplomatic circus begs a very basic question: How can countries which have bankrolled and armed the insurgency honestly broker a meaningful peace deal? Well, they can’t.

The joint effort recently announced by Moscow and Washington to bring the government and insurgents to an international conference in line with the Geneva Communiqué is a welcoming development, but some major issues have already come to the forefront.

Firstly, there is ongoing disagreement over who should represent the opposition in a Syrian peace process. In addition to the blatant Qatari proxies in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Russia has requested that the National Coordinating Body (NCB) also be present.

In stark contrast to the foreign-based SNC, which is lined with figures who have spent the past few decades in the West, the NCB is the internal opposition - and it has caught a lot of flak because it opposes the armed uprising and talks to the Syrian government.

The SNC has maintained it could not accept an invitation to dialogue unless Assad's removal was guaranteed. Russia will not allow for Assad’s departure to be a precondition of talks, and Kerry looks to have shifted the US position by saying Assad's exit should be the outcome of negotiations on a transitional government, rather than a starting point. 

Let’s be clear – before this conflict started in 2011, Assad oversaw a political system which was certainly authoritarian. The economy was stagnant, the state poorly handled overpopulation issues, and the agricultural sector was suffering from long periods of drought.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (right). (AFP Photo / SANA)

When Bashar took over from his father, he granted more political breathing space to dissidents, and then backpedalled on reforms when popular movements quickly took shape. In combating the insurgency, Syrian forces killed many of their own citizens in the crossfire.

Assad's fate shouldn't be decided by Washington

But no matter what anybody thinks of Assad, it is not the place of Washington, London, or Doha to decide his political fate. Let’s look at the situation on the ground; after more than two years of fighting, the Ba’ath establishment is firmly intact and functioning. The state controls the vast majority of territory, there are no major defections, and the business communities in the major cities support Assad. 

No one denies that many Syrian civilians want to see the end of Ba’athist rule, but the swathes of Assad supporters and their plight are almost universally obfuscated from the mainstream narrative. Bashar al-Assad, for better or for worse, heads the legitimate government of Syria, and excluding him from any peace talks or transitional government will simply negate the success of peace efforts.

Rebel fighters fire at government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on May 12, 2013. (AFP Photo)

If Assad faces an opposition coalition in the scheduled 2014 elections, and international monitors confirm his victory with a fair democratic majority, can anyone expect those sharks and vultures of the NATO-GCC bloc to respect the people’s choice? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

It seems like those attempting to broker peace in Syria subscribe to two separate versions of reality. A group of UN human rights investigators headed by Carla Del Ponte has compiled evidence indicating that Syrian rebels may have been behind the sarin nerve gas attacks that killed dozens in Aleppo and elsewhere. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to think otherwise, maintaining that the Assad regime held responsibility. Meanwhile, Kerry maintains that “strong evidence” exists to blame the regime, although UN officials and other US officials say there is no evidence. 

A push to end arms embargoes

Despite UN findings, Britain and France continue their push to end arms embargoes to Syria, which would allow them to openly arm militants who more than likely used chemical weapons. The Obama administration is also flirting with providing “direct lethal aid” to the insurgents, including anti-tank guided missiles and surface-to-air missiles. 

The idea of flooding more arms into a country where civil war has killed some seventy thousand can only be described as one thing: pathological. Not to mention giving weapons to non-state actors that are on record for committing war crimes! It’s absolutely crazy. A decade after Iraq, right wing and liberal hawks are again joining forces to call for stronger US military intervention in Syria.

In keeping with US mafia-minded protocol, all options remain on the table, and there is now talk of imposing a no-fly zone and airstrikes against Assad's forces. Some in the US political establishment are behind the use of American and other ground troops to secure Assad’s chemical weapon stockpiles. And all the while, Western mainstream media remains totally complicit and presents an upside down version of events to their audiences. 

As Israel transparently violates international law and kills dozens by striking inside Syrian territory, Russia is the bad guy for honoring contracts already signed to provide defensive weapons to Syria. Western media perpetuates the idea that Syria having the capabilities to defend itself is totally unacceptable and a threat to regional peace, despite the fact that it’s the victim of a brutal foreign-backed insurgency campaign, the recipient of numerous Israeli strikes, and a country partially under occupation.

Purveyors of violence - not peace

It’s difficult to shake the feeling of living in bizarro-world when commentators and analysts on television highlight the alleged egregious violations committed by Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, while completely obfuscating the vicious role of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the CIA throughout this conflict.

Syria tells us important things about the international policy system as it exists; mainly, that some countries can trounce international law while others must forfeit the right to defend themselves, and that the UN is an ineffective body incapable of meting out justice to global hegemons. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

AK-47 machine guns hang in a shelter for Syrian rebels in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 12, 2013. (AFP Photo / Dimitar Dilkoff)

The odds are stacked against the foundation of a fragile peace. The Saudis and Qataris are pushing for the allocation of Syria's seat at the UN to the Western-supported opposition. Nasrallah claims that transfer of the weapons to Hezbollah would be Syria’s “strategic response” to the airstrikes that hit the outskirts of Damascus. Syria says any new Israeli assault would bring a “harsh and painful” response. No matter how bad Assad is, the Talibanization of Syria is not a solution. 

As this regional conflict deepens and Syria teeters on red lines of all sorts, the world cannot expect ruthless purveyors of violence to become effective purveyors of peace.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.