Who holds the key to the Syrian enigma?

With exception of US, other players in conflict will scarcely hesitate to send in more fighters and more weapons.

2016/10/09 Issue: 76 Page: 6

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

A 40-minute conversa­tion US Secretary of State John Kerry had with Syrian opposi­tion leaders at the end of September was recorded and leaked to the New York Times. It reveals a treasure trove of information as to the mindset of US diplomacy regarding the Middle East and sheds more light on the inertia shown by US President Barack Obama’s administration on Syria.

As Kerry pointed out, very few within the Obama administration are willing to use force and the US Congress would not likely authorise any such action.

“A lot of Americans don’t believe that we should be fighting and sending young Americans to die in another country,” Kerry said during the conversation in New York.

Kerry explained why a resolution to the crisis in Syria is unlikely at this point, at least insofar as Americans are concerned.

As the months and years pass, the problems related to Syria become more complicated and harder to resolve. What initially was a Syrian civil war has morphed into a complex trans-regional conflict involving Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah, the Kurds, Saudi Arabia and several other oil-rich Gulf states and almost anyone in Syria old enough to load and fire an AK-47.

With the exception of the United States, the other players in the conflict will scarcely hesitate to send in more fighters and more weapons.

In Washington, however, the mood is quite different. With only months left before leaving the White House, Obama is not about to engage a significant number of US forces in another interminable Middle East war.

As the death toll mounted in Syria, there was some faint hope in mid-September when Kerry conferred with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russians and the Americans jointly announced the implementation of a ceasefire.

However, like all other tentative accords that came before it intending to put a stop to the war, this one, too, was short-lived. After the collapse of the ceasefire, Aleppo came under renewed aerial bombardment, perhaps the fiercest yet as the Syrian government forces backed by Russian warplanes seemed resolved to remove the opposition from the city.

As it now stands, there is very little hope, if any, for a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict.

In his conversation with the opposition leaders, Kerry suggested they bring about political change in Syria through free and fair elections under supervision of the United Nations with strict control to ensure that no foul play occurs.

At this point in the conflict, after five years of intense fighting that has ravaged entire cities, killed more than 400,000 people and displaced nearly a quarter of Syria’s population, does Kerry truly believe having elections would be feasible and that the outcome would be reliable?

If he does, there is a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.

Suggesting that Syrians bring about change through elections at this stage is unrealistic and worrisome, to say the least, and demonstrates how little understanding of the situation in Syria the administration has been able to grasp.

Elections in Syria were always rigged in favour of the standing candidate of the ruling party, where traditionally the incumbent would get about 99% of the vote. There is no reason why that would change.

How do you have elections in a country devastated by war and with huge numbers of the population displaced?

In the past, what made the United States and its diplomacy powerful and respected, though not necessarily loved, was its ability to rely on its military might to support its diplomacy, if and when needed. As US president Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as having said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

With regards to Syria, Washington has dropped its big stick and no one seems to be listening.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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