US policy likely ineffective in Syria

“If you want to change a regime in Damascus you have to blow it up” says expert on Middle-East.

“If you want to change a regime in Damascus you have to blow it up” says expert on Middle-East.

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON - With another round of negotiations in Geneva failing to improve Syria’s on-the-ground realities, it may be time for Washington to revisit its calculus on Syria.

The most recent round of discussions collapsed after the Syrian government refused to address any other issue until the matter of “terrorism”, referring to the armed opposition, was first dealt with.

“The regime is not going to negotiate away its power into a settlement. That would be illogical. Given the fact that the regime enjoys a military advantage, and appears confident that it can survive, if not outright win the conflict, there’s no reason whatsoever for it to make this kind of concession,” said Faysal Itani, a fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington while speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency (AA).

“I think Assad and the Russians went to Geneva hoping that America would do at the political level what it had done on chemical weapons - which is cut a deal with Assad over ceasefires and humanitarian aid,” said Joshua Landis, Director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

That was not the tact that Washington adopted.

“He [Kerry] came out with both guns blazing in an anti-Assad diatribe, to show the world what a barbarian Assad is and how he killed all those people. All of which is true. But it is not the way to get dialogue going with the Assad regime,” remarked Landis.

As it stands, the Syrian government has little incentive to hand over power to the opposition or a transitional authority as Damascus continues to wrack up gains against opposition forces. Their diplomatic and military backing from Moscow has ensured that they can continue to advance on the battlefield while giving short shrift to peace talks.

“The Russians are absolutely committed to ensuring a military victory for the regime, or at the very least its survival,” remarked Itani.

Speaking in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Syrian government “stonewalled” in Geneva due to the Russian government’s military backing.

Kerry’s statement follows Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would supply advanced heavy weaponry including guided anti-tank munitions and portable anti-air weapons, or MANPADs, to the Syrian opposition. Such a move has the potential to significantly impact Syria’s military dynamic.

“I think it’s part and parcel of a long-running Saudi policy to reconsolidate, restructure the rebellion in a manner that would place more pressure on the regime in light of the absence of U.S. efforts to do the same,” Itani said.

The U.S. has reason to fret about the announcement as previously it has seen its hitherto limited aid to the opposition fall into the hands of groups it has deemed unfit to wield its assistance. In early December, the Islamic Front overran a Free Syrian Army (FSA) arms depot in Bab al-Hawa, capturing Western-supplied non-lethal assistance, including aid supplied by Washington.

“The major problem for America right now, other than Assad bombing people, is that Saudi Arabia is determined to do more to help the Sunni rebels,” said Landis.

He added: “America doesn’t want to lose control of that process entirely. I think that’s an overarching problem for the United States.”

While it might fight for control of the process by vigorously analyzing Syria’s armed groups, control of its arms may be something that Washington ultimately has to forgo if it wishes to match or better Riyadh in its effort to hold sway in Syria.

As Bab al-Hawa illustrates, even if the U.S. thoroughly vets its military partners, the changing dynamics on Syria’s battlefield do not ensure which hands the weapons end up in, as it has been seen until now that Syria’s conflict has produced rapidly changing dynamics.

Citing setbacks on the battlefield, the FSA sacked its leader, General Selim Idriss on Monday and replaced him with Brigadier General Abdeillah al-Bashir, who had previously led FSA operations near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Still, bolstering the opposition’s military capabilities may be the only way that power changes hands in Damascus – at least in the near-term, says Landis. “If you want to change a regime in Damascus you have to blow it up.”

So far 100,000 people have died in Syria’s conflict, according to the UN. No date has yet been set for the third rounds of talks in Geneva.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency