Assad, like Milosevic, will only negotiate seriously if the military balance is against him. And that is what is particularly troubling about the Geneva conference that Kerry is pushing. Right now, the opposition forces are under assault. Iran has stepped up its military support. So has Russia. And Hezbollah is now a full-fledged ally in this axis of slaughter in Syria. The bad guys are getting stronger. Until Washington, with the support of Europeans and the many others around the world who also oppose Assad, act to strengthen the opposition’s military capability while isolating the Islamic extremists who have joined the fight, a peace conference is a prescription for disaster. Either the opposition will appear as the recalcitrant party or they will be pressured into important concessions that will never be accepted by those fighting and dying on the ground in Qusayr, Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus.
Kerry is making a big mistake if he doesn’t understand that Russia wants, as a matter of policy, to weaken the United States. He should be much more wary of negotiations with Lavrov until Assad’s calculations change, and that will only happen when the Syrian opposition recovers from recent setbacks. There will be a time for negotiations to succeed, but that time is not now.