A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 1, 2016

Is the Geneva Process Doomed?

The UN's negotiator on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had been struggling the past several days to keep the Geneva peace process on Syria from collapsing in complete disarray. The High National Committee (HNC), representing the anti-Asad side, is balking at talking unless the government side demonstrates sincerity by taking measures to alleviate civilian suffering. That's admirable, but there's little incentive for the government side to comply. (If you're not current on the Geneva process, this excellent guide by Aron Lund is a good briefing.)

I wish I could be as optimistic as de Mistura and Secretary Kerry are trying to be. The facts on the ground are not on the side of the HNC. Hard negotiating is possible only when neither side thinks it can win outright. But in fact the regime forces and their Russian, Hizbullah, and Iranian allies are pushing forward steadily on the Idlib and Aleppo fronts and around Der‘a south of Damascus, and Russian air power is clearing the hinterland along the Turkish border. Assuming the Asad regime would define "victory" not as full control of Syrian territory, but rather as controlling a contiguous corridor of "useful" Syria including the main population centers of Damascus-Homs-Hama-Aleppo and the ports of Latakia and Tartus, the Russian intervention is making that seem like a real possibility. Why make concessions when you're winning? I'm not defending the Asad regime, but where's their incentive to compromise? I wish I could be more optimistic.

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