Talking to Assad today is futile

Talking to Assad today is futile
6 min read
23 May, 2016
Comment: With US allies focused on fighting the Islamic State group, the dictator of Damascus has no incentive to step down, writes Sam Hamad.
Peace is nowhere even near the lips of Assad, Iran or Russia, writes Hamad [Getty]

Here we go again.

The spectre of negotiations hangs over Syria. The Syrian war, in many ways, has mimicked the power relations that exist between Israel, and its international backers, and Palestine, but in a far more temporally compressed form - Palestine is slowly dying under the constant prospect of a peace process, while Syria is being rapidly destroyed as both its enemies and so-called friends - as in the US-led "Friends of Syria" - talk uselessly and sinisterly of a negotiated peace.

It's not nearly enough to call the alleged peace process in Syria shambolic, though, given the powers couldn't even reach consensus on a date for negotiations, they do have an element of the shambles. But this farcical nature is merely a consequence of the fact that the negotiations themselves are not born of a desire from the main non-Syrian players - namely the US, Russia and Iran - to see a just peace.

The US wants simply to sweep the revolution to one side, with Syrians fighting for freedom against Assad and his allies acquiescing to the US' sole interest in fighting the lesser evil of the Islamic State group. 

For Iran and Russia, the calculation is simple - they have absolutely nothing to lose from taking part in these negotiations. This ought to be taken quite literally.

The Russian intervention has been brutally effective in terms of sending a message to the rebels and their supporters that Moscow will use raw military power to ensure that the numerically superior rebels won't threaten the Baathist rump. 

However, it has also proven that the Assad regime, even with Russian intervention and the massive Iranian-led ground intervention, comprising at least half of the regime-allied forces, has absolutely no chance of ever achieving total military victory over the rebellion.

It's not so much a war of attrition as it is one of incremental annihilation

One might mistake this for a stalemate and thus proceed to look at the situation as if the rebels and regime were on equal footing - this is not the case. The reality is that due to Assad's ability to rely on material and direct military intervention from an imperialist force such as Russia and a "sub-imperialist" force like Iran, he is able to sit comfortably in the 25 percent of Syria that he controls, while using his air force to make life hellish for Syrians who live in the rest. 

It's not so much a war of attrition as it is one of incremental annihilation, as the scale of the death toll and refugee crisis attests.

Peace is nowhere even near the lips of Assad, Iran or Russia, with Tehran and Moscow making genuine negotiations impossible with their continued demand that Assad ought to stay as president. 

During the "ceasefire" - much celebrated by John Kerry - Assad and Russia have launched one of the most viciously prolonged aerial attacks on Free Aleppo, under the pretext of targeting the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Surian franchise. In reality, it is Syrian rebel forces who hold the majority of the city which have been targeted. 

If there are those who still doubt the US stance on all this, its first reaction was to support the Russian airstrikes, with a spokesperson repeating the lies that al-Qaeda held most of the city - something that they later retracted after an outcry about this genuine absurdity. 

But Russia seemed buoyed by such an endorsement, to the extent that it is now advocating a joint US-Russian assault on "terrorist groups" in Syria.

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But the US slip was no mistake - it's playing a game of trying to keep its allies in Saudi, Turkey and Qatar, the only three nations left supporting the rebels, onside. Meanwhile, Washington, due to its IS-centric view of Syria, leans towards Russia, Iran and Assad in terms of siding with state forces against a popular but haphazard revolution. 

The US speaks primarily the language of self-interest, power and "stability" - the counter-revolution in Syria (and elsewhere) speaks the very same language.

And this is precisely what underlies the negotiations in Syria.  While the US claims that it is pushing for Assad to leave as a precondition or outcome of the negotiations, it has previously said the very opposite. More aptly, its rhetoric is entirely empty if it continues to refuse to support the rebels in any sense that goes beyond giving a few brigades some light weaponry - before it ended that to pursue a disastrous policy of arming rebels who only fight IS. 

It also continues to ensure that the rebels have not even the remotest chance of defending themselves from the aerial threat of Assad and Russia by enforcing an embargo on anti-aircraft weaponry on them.

The criticism of the US regarding these negotiations is not that Washington remains merely neutral, but that it is effectively tying the Syrian rebels' hands behind their backs.

As long as Assad, Iran and Russia know that the rebels have no international support, they have absolutely no incentive to negotiate in terms that the rebels could accept - in terms that would allow them to overcome diplomatically the barriers that have stopped the revolution from taking its natural course.

This is the language of barrel bomb pacifism

They can, however, hope to use the US to strong-arm the rebels into accepting an unjust "peace" - we know what Assad and Russia mean by peace. They mean murdering hundreds of civilians in one month during a "ceasefire", they mean striking refugee camps and destroying hospitals.

Assad's allies want the rebels to sign their own death warrants - if the rebels refuse, the regime and its allies will carry on with business as usual, this time with their willing media mouthpieces slandering the rebels as "rejectionists" and painting supporters of the revolution as "warmongers". 

This is the language of barrel bomb pacifism, one that dresses up the success of counter-revolution in the phoney language of peace.

Unfortunately for Syrians, the nightmare scenario has played out. The world cares more about IS, as it presents a moderate threat in the streets of the so-called civilised world, while the Assad-driven genocidal catastrophe that grips their country has been pushed to one side - and, in some sense, accepted so incoherently as a lesser evil than IS, and a necessary evil at that. 

Through the manner in which Iran and Russia have allowed Assad to cling to power, the world has not merely just accepted the rebels and Assad as being two equal sides in a civil war - as opposed to one side fighting to fulfil a popular revolution against a tyranny that has destroyed a country to maintain its power - but it has actively prioritised the Assad regime. 

It has once again sided with raw power against the powerless.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.