Thursday, January 23, 2014


Here is one of the cruelest facts of life:  You only get to make peace with your enemies.

Here’s another:  Peace means an end to organized violence.  You do not have peace while the perpetrators of organized violence are not restrained (see Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mali etc etc etc).

This, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with America’s insistence on excluding Iran for the negotiations to bring peace to Syria ongoing in Montreux.

“The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, stated on his website his belief that the talks have little hope of success. ‘Because of the lack of influential players in the meeting, I doubt about the Geneva II meeting's success in fighting against terrorism ... and its ability to resolve the Syria crisis,’ Rouhani said. ‘The Geneva II meeting has already failed.’” 

So long as Iran continues to supply fighters (some Iranians, but many more Hizbullah warriors from Lebanon) in support of Syria’s criminal President Bashar al-Assad, there will not be peace.  Excluding the Iranians from the peace talks does guarantee their failure, since it all but takes away any reason for Teheran to restrain either Assad or Hizbullah.

America offers 2 quasi-rationales for the exclusion: (1) the Iranians have not committed in advance to the goal of the conference, the transitioning out of power of President al-Assad and his government, and (2) the presence of the Iranians would trigger a boycott by our favorite rebel group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

Both points have their flaws: (1)  the Iranian position is more or less the same as the Russian position, but the Russians have not been booted from the talks, rather their participation is considered one of the keys to any potential success; and, (2) the SNC by itself can contribute to peace, but cannot come close to assuring it, as it remains out-gunned and out-organized by the rest of the rebel movement, the radical Islamist forces, many allied to Al Qaeda, who have rejected the talks from the moment they were proposed.     

Negotiations only succeed when all the controlling stakeholders can derive some benefit from them.  Excluding a necessary stakeholder to keep a less crucial one on board makes no sense.  Our rebels need and benefit from peace too much to pull out, no matter what they threaten.

So, who are the stakeholders here?  (1) The wretched Syrian government and its 1%ers, the Assad family and its closest associates; (2)  The Syrian rebel forces; (3) The Syrian people, most of them bullied by, but not loyal to any of the contending forces; (4) Assad’s regional supporters, almost all of them Shi’ites, of whom Iran and Hizbullah are the most important; (5) Assad’s regional opponents, almost all of them Sunnis, of whom Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the biggest funders of the rebels; (6) global kibitzers like Russia, the United States and its allies in Western Europe.

What benefits might convince each of the stakeholders to make and sustain peace? 

(1) For Assad and the other beasts of his herd the prime benefit of agreeing to peace and giving up power would be that they will not only be allowed to live, they might be guaranteed immunity from prosecution, judgment, incarceration and loss of all their worldly goods. As if this opportunity were not enough in itself, the Washington Post editorial board says it might seem more valuable were it more aggressively threatened by the Obama White House.

More on this exercise in facile fatuity later.

(2)  The benefits for the anti-Assad forces are both obvious and, alas, fatally incomplete.  “Peace” declared in Switzerland will not become peace in Syria until the SNC’s fellow rebels, their Islamist rivals in rebellion, are subdued, and, as events in Iraq next door daily illustrate, subduing the jihadis will be hard to do.  But like including the Iranians, subduing the Islamists is not a choice, but a necessity to peace.

(3)  Making “peace” pay real-life dividends for the Syrian people will demand not just freeing them from Assad’s homegrown tyranny and the equally overbearing, mostly foreign, Fundamentalist threat, but freeing themselves from their ruinous addiction to sectarian conflict.  Syria’s majority Sunnis must convince their opponents in the Alawite, Shi’ite, Christian and Maronite communities that they are willing to live civilly, even harmoniously, alongside them, that bygones from this brutal war will indeed be bygones.  In many ways this is a more complex, maybe even more difficult task than defeating the Islamists.  But again, necessary.

(4)  The promise of a Levant ruled by law, and based on inter-communal co-operation would relieve Assad’s allies, Iran and Hizbullah of a conflict that has grown ruinous in blood and treasure.  It also might lead to a future in which both the Iranian government and Hizbullah’s leadership could use their strengths of political and social organization to grant their peoples infinitely better lives, safe from foreign threats or local violence. 

(5)  Peace in Syria would not guarantee, but would certainly make more possible, both a wider peace and even a stable region.  The blessings of peace in Syria would be constantly communicated to the peoples of the rest of the Arabic-speaking world by vigorous and competitive news media, hopefully growing a regional constituency for rule of law and civility.  The chief bankrollers of the Syrian rebellion, Saudi Arabia and especially Qatar are much happier being merchandising states than militarizing states, and a Mideast without war plays directly to their strengths and interests.  The removal of the semi-Shi’ite Alawites from power in Syria, the retreat of Hizbullah back to Lebanon (and even better, back to more civil, less brutal political competition within Lebanon), and the predictable advantages of Sunni majority power in Syria would more than offset having to play live-and-let-live with the Shi’ite triumphalists in Nouri al-Maliki’s government in Baghdad. Selling out their temporary allies-in-regime change, buying them off, or helping kill them, would not, I’m betting, be a big problem for either the Saudis or the Qataris.

(6)  The reduction in bloodshed, and progress towards stability would be the biggest payoffs from peace for almost everyone, from the Syrian people who would no longer be dodging daily bombs and bullets, to the regional rulers in Riyadh and Doha, and the global powers in Moscow and Washington who could go back to making money and self-congratulatory pronouncements.  Another important benefit, for Putin, Obama, Hollande, Cameron and the royal, military or democratic leaders of the Islamic world from  ending the conflict in Syria would be the opportunity to join forces in eliminating the irreconcilable guerillas.  No one in any of these governments and almost no one in their countries would mourn their demise.  

(7)  What benefits could convince Al Qaeda and its allies to call off their war and seek the true triumph of jihad, personal religious purity and discipline?  Probably, there are none, which is why they rejected the peace talks and why they must be defeated. 

But, let’s be honest here.  Worthy as these goals may be, they simply cannot be realized without Iran’s assent.  One monkey, the old saying goes, can stop the show, and in the Mideast, Teheran is the headquarters of one hellacious combination of peace-stoppers.

The opportunity to improve their chances to be accepted into the community of peace-makers, and allowed to prove through actions that they are a nation worthy of respect and equal economic and political treatment has proved quite alluring to Iran in the context of its nuclear ambitions.  If Teheran can be convinced that similar benefits would accrue to them and their people, and their allies from Beirut to Bahrain, Iran might rehabilitate itself to everyone’s profit.

The diplomatic negotiation which may well have put Iran on a path to nuclear restraint was called Geneva I.  The people who have put together, and then tossed Iran out of, this week’s conference in Montreux call it Geneva II, for the same reason the folks who play football in New Jersey’s Meadowlands call themselves the New York Giants and Jets: marketing.

But as the humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “Politics ain’t beanbag;” and peace-making ain’t football.  Branding the conference in the name of the city where a watch-makers convention (really!) displaced the diplomats to the smaller town an hour’s drive away won’t accomplish anything.  Real give and take, even with our enemies, is the only way to make peace a best-selling product.

Oh, yes, -- I mentioned the WaPo editorialists and their suggestion that Barack Obama can force humanitarian concessions (even the Posties don’t think he can force real peace) “by presenting Mr. Assad with the choice of accepting them or enduring U.S. airstrikes.”

As if bluffing a guy into giving up just one of his still supreme arsenal of weapons means you can bluff him out of power itself.  This is just self-inflating, self-deluding crap. 

For the editorialists who, I’m sure, would also recommend that Obama back up his bluff, if it were called, I have my favorite 3-word question, the one policy-makers and conference table commanders never seem to ask themselves, “And then what?”

Lob a few bombs, kill off a bunch of bad guys, and then…??  Wasn’t that Don Rumsfeld’s prescription for Iraq?  Not even the Post’s own eternal optimists would buy that sack of ignorant shit a second time.  Or would they?

Better to try to find a deal that meets almost everyone’s need to think it got them something good.


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