Big news this Memorial Day. As the US stops to BBQ and remember its fallen Vets, the situation in Syria is still one of civil war. However, the Foreign minister of Syria, Walid Muallem, said that Syria would agree ‘in principle’ to attend Geneva talks! The round of talks (called Geneva 2) will take place next month, and were a joint proposal by the US and Russia. What do these talks mean? Well, the Syrian National Coalition (the organized part of the opposition) said they were willing to participate, on the condition that Assad step down. Assad so far has refused to step aside or leave the country. The talks haven’t even been scheduled yet, due to what Russia is calling a ‘lack of unity within the opposition’.
The Syrian National Coalition is meeting in Istanbul, Turkey currently, and has yet to ‘officially’ reach a decision on whether or not to join in the talks. If they refuse, there will be little chance in holding them. John Kerry and his Russian counter part, Sergey Lavrov, are to meet in Paris today to continue to discuss the Syrian situation.
There seems to be little chance to end Syria’s 26 month war with Assad staying in power. Either he will step down (not likely), be overthrown (a chance), the opposition will fail (perhaps possible), or the war will continue to drag on in its current form. With over 80,000 dead and over 1.5 million displaced, the situation in Syria is tragic, and not likely to get any better any time soon.
For those of you who don’t know, Syria is rather tragic right now. Since the start of protests in January of 2011 to now, over 60,000 people have been killed, with over 700,000 displaced. Civil war is always a nasty affair, and the Syrian conflict is no different. Frustrations have run high on the United Nations Security Council, and there still exists an impasse between the US and Russia over humanitarian intervention. Obama has been criticized for not doing enough to stem the violence in Syria, unlike in Libya. However, Obama has approached Syria with the understanding that Syria is not Libya, or Egypt. Strong pressure from the White House and NATO action will not stop the tide of violence in the country and would only destabilize the region, as well as add a deep chill to already frosty US/Russia.
Obama has been far from indifferent on Syria. The administration has been approaching the conflict not with the ‘big stick’ of possible military intervention, but with diplomacy. In fact, just yesterday Vice President Joe Biden met with Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib. Khatib also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Khatib expressed that the opposition was willing to sit and talk with Assad. The Russians and Americans were happy with this small bit of progress, but it is yet to see how Assad will respond.
The Obama approach to Syria highlights an important foreign policy strategy of the administration. Obama is a true liberal in the fact that he utilizes the United Nations Security Council for what it was intended- to handle the issues of international conflict. Obama subscribes to the idea that if it doesn’t directly impact US interests, it is best handled by the UN. By allowing the UN to be the primary way that the US interacts with Syria, the administration participates in a global framework towards ending the violence. It also keeps Russia from too strongly misinterpreting US actions in the region. While the US has recognized the Syrian opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, Obama is not willing to commit the US to installing them in power. It is a wise decision. The conflict already shows signs of taking a sectarian turn in violence, and there are reports of al Qaeda backed groups taking control in regions of Syria. Add to it the recent attack by Israel against Syria, and the region is already on the brink of falling well past the point of no return. Diplomacy is the proper strategy here, as high rhetoric and use of military force would only make the situation worse. Obama is wise to use the channels of diplomacy to support the rebels without applying force. Anything else would be a disaster.