All right, it appears that Moscow has finally convinced Bashar al-Assad to attend peace talks in Geneva to resolve the two-year civil war in Syria. Now what? It’s not clear that the rebels want to attend either, or who would even represent them in a conference:
The Syrian government has agreed to participate in an international peace conference coordinated by Russia and the United States, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
“We note with satisfaction that Damascus has confirmed its readiness in principle to participate in an international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to a settlement of the conflict that has been devastating for the country and the region,” the spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said in a statement.
John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov had been negotiating this since early this year. Lavrov’s job was to get Assad to the table. Ours was to get representatives of the rebels to do the same, but so far we don’t seem to be succeeding. The only plan for a transition comes from someone who already left the rebel council, and the rebels apparently aren’t terribly interested in what he has to say:
Sheik Khatib’s plan, published on his official Facebook page, would retain some members of the current government. Under it, Mr. Assad would hand power to Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa or Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi within 30 days of accepting the plan.
Subsequent measures include dissolving Parliament and transferring legislative powers to an agreed-upon candidate to handle the transition. Sheik Khatib added that the current government would continue to govern for 100 days, restructure the security and military apparatus, and release political prisoners.
But it is not clear whether any other members of the opposition coalition will support the plan. “No one listened to him when he was still head of the coalition; why would they listen to him now?” said an activist contacted via Skype in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, who declined to give her name.
And it is unlikely to appeal to the rebels fighting Mr. Assad’s army and its allies on the ground, who say they want Assad loyalists to pay for their actions.
Khatib left because no one was listening to him. The rebels had already turned radical and extreme, as evidenced by their ruthless imposition of shari’a law wherever they control the ground. Their most effective fighting force, Jabhat al-Nusra, has proclaimed itself an al-Qaeda affiliate. These aren’t moderates looking for a negotiated, power-sharing solution, and they’re not going to even bother with a Khatib-esque pretense for public consumption. Don’t expect our efforts to get AQ allies to the Geneva table to meet with much success.
So why would Moscow push Assad to Geneva in the first place? I suspect it’s to get the West to back away from Syria by humiliating them in this process. If Moscow delivers and the US can’t, then it undermines our insistence on intervention against Assad, which is a great outcome for both Assad and the Russians. It cements their sphere of influence in the region and exposes the rebels for what they actually are — extremists bent on establishing another shari’a state on the Mediterranean. If some rebels can be convinced to show up, they’ll be instantly discredited with Jabhat al-Nusra and their allies and the rebellion will split and disintegrate into infighting. And if a peace conference succeeded on Assad’s terms, all the better for Moscow. It’s practically a no-lose scenario for them.
Why, again, are we involved in this fight at all?