Gwynne Dyer: Syrian peace talks increase in complexity

It would be interesting to know just what tidbits of information the US National Security Agency’s eavesdropping has turned up on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. He certainly caved in very fast: on Sunday he invited Iran to join the long-delayed peace talks aimed at ending the three-year-old civil war in Syria; on Sunday evening the United States loudly objected, and on Monday he obediently uninvited Iran.

So the peace talks get underway in Switzerland this week after all, and the omens for peace are not that bad. Unless, of course, you were also hoping for the overthrow of the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad and the emergence of a democratic Syria, in which case the omens are positively awful.

The breakthrough may not happen at Geneva this week, but the Russians and the Americans are now on the same side (although the US cannot yet bring itself to say publicly that it is backing Assad). Moreover, some of the rebels are getting ready to change sides. It won’t be fast and it won’t be pretty, but there’s a decent chance that peace, in the shape of an Assad victory, will come to Syria within a year or two.

What has made this possible is the jihadis, the fanatical extremists of the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who have frightened both the United States and a great many ordinary Syrians into seeing Assad’s regime as the lesser evil.

Two years ago, it still seemed possible that Assad could lose. The rebels had the support of the United States, Turkey and powerful Sunni Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and they still talked about a democratic, inclusive Syria. Assad’s only friends were Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

But then the jihadis showed up, alienating local people with their extreme version of sharia law and scaring the pants off the United States with their allegiance to al-Qaeda. It took the United States quite a while to admit to itself that it does not actually want Assad to fall if that means putting the jihadis in power, but it has finally grasped the concept.

The catalyst was the poison gas attacks in Damascus last August, which forced the US to threaten air strikes against the Assad regime (because it had already declared that the use of poison gas would cross a “red line”). However, President Obama was clearly reluctant to carry out his threat – and then the Russians came up with the idea that Assad could hand over all his chemical weapons instead.

Obama grabbed that lifeline and cancelled the air strikes. After that there was no longer any prospect of Western military intervention in the Syrian war, which meant that Assad was certain to survive, because the domestic rebels were never going to win it on their own.

More recently, a “war-within-the-war” has broken out among the rebels, with the secular groups fighting the jihadis and the jihadi groups fighting among themselves. So far in January more people have been killed in this internecine rebel war (over a thousand) than in the war against the regime. And the US and Russia are working on a deal that would swing most of the non-jihadi rebels over to the regime’s side.

General Salim Idris, the commander of the Free Syrian Army (the main non-jihadi force on the battlefield), said last month that he and his allies were dropping the demand that Assad must leave power before the Geneva meeting convened. Instead, they would be content for Assad to go at the end of the negotiation process, at which time the FSA’s forces would join with those of the regime in an offensive against the Islamists.

He was actually signalling that the Free Syrian Army is getting ready to change sides. There will have to be amnesties and financial rewards for those who change sides, of course, but these things are easily arranged. And Assad will not leave power “at the end of the negotiation process.”

The jihadis are not at Geneva this week, of course; just the Russians and the Americans, and the Assad regime and the Syrian National coalition (the Free Syrian Army’s political front), and a few odds and sods to make up the numbers. It is an ideal environment for the regime and the secular rebels to discuss quietly how they might make a deal, with their Russian and American big brothers in attendance to smooth the path.

The fighting in Syria will continue for many months, even if a joint front of the regime and the FSA is formed to drive out the foreign extremists and eliminate the native-born ones. In practice the end game will probably be even more ragged than that, with all sorts of local rebel groups trying to cut their own deals or holding out until the bitter end. But the final outcome has become clear, and it is no longer years away.

This article was updated to reflect the following changes: On January 19, 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon extended an invitation for Iran to attend peace talks concerning Syria. That invitation was withdrawn the following day.

Comments (11) Add New Comment
Kafantaris
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is right. The elephant in the room in Geneva would be Iran -- so it might as well be there.
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Dennis Ryan
And so who will explain all this "wonderful news" to those killed?
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Mosby
"the point of a peace conference is not to talk to your friends; it is to talk to your enemies."

That's why this "peace conference" is actually a "let's make a deal" meeting. And the deal that each negotiating group wants to make is to secretly garner for itself the maximum amount of power/control and/or money while publicly expounding on the supposed benefit to the affected populace and the world at large. In this case, the "benefit" to the populace amounts to something like "May you not be killed today so that you can die tomorrow."

This view might have been called cynical in the old days. Now it's just a plain old observation of reality.
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Ilan Hersht
The historical perspective on this, if things turn out as Mr. Dyer predicts, is likely to be pretty close to Assad's original propaganda story: Foreign backed jihadis foolishly supported by the west trying to turn pluralist, secular, resistance axis Syria into a bigoted, theocratic, ethnocracy.

Every one will have slightly difference interpretations but it's hard to sell the idea that there ever was a democratic force playing a role at any point.
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I Chandler
"What has made this possible is the jihadis, the fanatical extremists of the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq"

Eric Margolis also writes about how al-Qaida is also back in Iraq and: "now, al-Qaida has popped up in Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, across North Africa, Nigeria, Mali, Central African Republic, and so on. Somalia’s anti-western resistance group, Shebab, is also branded “al-Qaida linked.”

The buzz-word 'al-Qaida' sends America’s Republicans and neoconservatives into a frenzy. Eric Margolis also writes "Back in the Cold War, almost all groups opposing western domination were called communists. Today, al-Qaida has replaced communism as a hot button name. The widespread – but probably mistaken – belief that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida was responsible for the 9/11 attacks has made anything “linked” to al-Qaida fair game for liquidation."

http://ericmargolis.com/2014/01/return-of-al-qaida/

Western intelligence agencies and their media sock puppets have accused Assad of funding and al-Qaeda. Two al-Qaeda affiliates have been financed by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime, intelligence sources have told The Daily Telegraph:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10585391/Syri...


"interesting to know just what tidbits of information, NSA eavesdropping has turned up on Ban Ki-Moon"

Information? You mean dirt? They went bonkers after the announcement, that King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize." Tape recordings showing "the depths of MLK's "sexual perversion and depravity" with prostitutes, was then used in a bizarre attempt to blackmail King into committing suicide:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-weigant/the-history-of-rev-dr-mar_b_...
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I Chandler
"The catalyst was the poison gas attacks in Damascus last August, which forced the US to threaten air strikes against the Assad regime "

The Mistaken Guns of August describes faulty US Intelligence:
"A new report by two American weapons specialists, entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack,” makes clear that the case presented by Kerry and the Obama administration was scientifically impossible because the range of the key rocket carrying Sarin was less than a third of what the U.S. government was claiming"

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/01/20/the-mistaken-guns-of-last-august/
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D Ritchie
There will likely never be peace in the middle east, as long as religion is a factor, and religion always will be a factor. Let them sort it out for themselves. The more the western world interferes, the more likely it is that we become targets for those psychotic fanatics.
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I Chandler
"IT WOULD BE interesting to know just what tidbits the US NSA’s on Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon."

No more titillating than the tapes of five UK Prime Ministers or MLK. Read how MI5 bugged 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet and at least five Prime Ministers for 15 YEARS:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1266837/Revealed-How-MI5-bugged-...

They went bonkers after the announcement, that King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize." Tape recordings showing "the depths of MLK's "sexual perversion and depravity" with prostitutes, was then used in a bizarre attempt to blackmail King into committing suicide:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-weigant/the-history-of-rev-dr-mar_b_...
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Uncle Jack
After reading some of the goofy comments above, I fell the urge to paraphrase an old communist slogan:

"Conspiracy crazies from al countries, unite!!"
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I Chandler
"After reading some of the goofy comments above...Conspiracy crazies, unite!!"

Agreed - the conspiracy between president Assad and Al-Qaeda is ludicrous, but
the conspiracy between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda takes the cake:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddam_Hussein_and_al-Qaeda_link_allegation...

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McRocket
Very interesting...thanks Gwynne Dyer.
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