Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brahimi offers long shot for Syrian peace

Global Times 

The bodies keep piling up, thousands of people have fled Syria, money keeps pouring in to fund the conflict, and diplomatic efforts are seemingly at an impasse. In short, the Syrian civil war looks like it is destined to spiral further out of control unless a diplomatic solution is somehow achieved.
But for words to work instead of violence, diplomatic efforts have to come from Middle Eastern actors. Any solution imposed by non-regional actors like the US or via military intervention by NATO will only add fuel to an already raging fire.
However, inter-regional solutions to the Middle East's conflicts have been few and far between, with the last success story perhaps the Taif Agreement in 1989, when all parties sat down in Saudi Arabia to hammer out an end to Lebanon's 16-year civil war. This time, Riyadh is not willing to act as mediator, but instead has become deeply involved in backing the Syrian rebels, providing cover for private financiers to arm the fighters, and producing favorable media coverage of the Syrian uprising.
That a man central to ending the Lebanese civil war, Lakhdar Brahimi, has replaced Kofi Annan as the UN envoy to Syria, and is also the Arab League mediator, initially seemed promising given how widely respected Brahimi is and his track record. But already the outlook is not good, with Brahimi telling the BBC last week that attempts to diplomatically end the conflict are "nearly impossible."
Indeed, on one side there is the entrenched regime of Bashar al-Assad which appears bent on stubbornly following the same route as the former Libyan regime, going down with the sinking ship. When Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi spoke in Tehran in late August at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit of the Syrians' struggle against an "oppressive regime" and his support for a "peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom," the Syrian delegate walked out.
Syria however is not alone. Damascus is supported by Moscow and Tehran, with neither backer willing to give up Syria's geo-strategic position as a warm water port for the Russian navy and its part in Iran's "axis of resistance," while both players benefit politically from opposing US hegemony.
On the other side is a motley crew of rebel fighters, ostensibly working together under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to overthrow Assad, that is supported by Turkey, NATO, the US and the Gulf states, in particular Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Notably, the rebels have appeared to make major inroads lately in their assaults on Syria's major cities. The rebels are not going to back down now and the regime has everything to lose.
One reason Brahimi has a nearly impossible task in Syria is the questionable credibility of the UN, dominated as it is by the Security Council, and that of the Arab League, which expelled Syria in November from the 22-nation club and is unashamedly a tool of the Gulf states.
It is not too late to rise above real-politik cynicism though, especially if Brahimi can tie his policies to the Syria Contact Group proposed by Morsi, to consist of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Quite remarkably, Morsi managed to get Iran and Saudi Arabia to the table. Riyadh's role in supporting the rebels is clear, and Tehran's support of Damascus is even clearer, but this gives all the more reason to talk of solutions given their respective leverage.
While the recently unthinkable troika of Cairo, Tehran and Riyadh may come up with a solution if the contact group moves forward, it will not succeed without Turkey being in on the talks. Istanbul openly supports the FSA and hosts NATO bases that are providing operational support to the rebels, and has re-buffed the group, barely showing when invited to NAM.
If the contact group can get together to agree on a regional solution, and then send emissaries to Washington and Moscow to secure international backing before turning up in Damascus, "nearly impossible" diplomacy may turn into possible solutions.