Assad goes into Geneva with the upper hand

Rajan Menon writes: It would certainly be wonderful if Wednesday’s peace conference in Geneva were to result in some kind of blueprint, however fragile, for winding down a Syrian civil war that is now approaching the three-year mark. The carnage has consumed some 130,000 lives — at least half of them civilians — turned 2.4 million Syrians into refugees in neighboring countries and displaced another 6.5 million within Syria itself.

Add to this devastation the children who have lost one or both of their parents, the destruction of essential infrastructure, the outbreak, actual or potential, of multiple diseases and the scarcity of basic necessities, and what’s evident is that Syria is being consumed by catastrophe. Syrians will feel its malign effects for years to come, as will people in adjacent countries, particularly Lebanon and Iraq, where Syria’s sectarian war has aggravated Sunni-Shi’a tensions.

With all of these factors in play, it appears unlikely that a substantive and sustainable resolution will be reached in this week’s “Geneva II” peace talks.

First, there’s a deep divide between the Syrian groups in exile — which claim to be the authentic voice of Syrians and have been recognized as such by many governments — and the most effective fighting forces within Syria. The former are organized as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (aka the Syrian National Coalition, SNC) and have established a provisional government — based in Turkey — as well as a Supreme Military Council. But no matter the rhetoric of the SNC and its backers in Washington and elsewhere, other opposition groups that do not answer to the SNC bear the brunt of the fighting and are therefore more consequential to Syria’s political future.

The pressure the United States has applied on the SNC to join Geneva II has further divided what was already a creaky coalition. When the SNC voted Saturday on whether to participate in the talks, about half of its members refused to vote, voted no or abstained. The dissenters worried, with good reason, that sitting down with Assad’s representatives would further erode their standing within Syria and diminish the likelihood of removing the dictator from power. [Continue reading…]

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