[Marxism] Syrian negotiations?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 4 05:50:37 MST 2013


Robin Yassin-Kassab

This was published at The National.

On January19th  Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem gave an 
apparently conciliatory interview to state TV. “I tell the young men who 
carried arms to change and reform, take part in the dialogue for a new 
Syria and you will be a partner in building it. Why carry arms?” In the 
southern and eastern suburbs of Damascus his voice was drowned out by 
the continuing roar of the regime’s rocket, artillery and air strikes.

The UN and parts of the media have also called for negotiations. Until 
late January this year, however, the Syrian National Coalition – the 
widely-recognised opposition umbrella group – opposed the notion 
absolutely. But then SNC leader Moaz al-Khatib announced that he would 
talk directly to regime representatives (not Bashaar al-Assad himself) 
on condition that the regime releases 160, 000 detainees and renews the 
expired passports of exiled Syrians.

In the context of Moallem’s media offensive (and in the absence of 
concerted international financial or military support for either the SNC 
or the revolutionary militias) al-Khatib’s announcement calls the 
regime’s bluff. It doesn’t, of course, mean that negotiations are about 
to be launched. For a start, the regime only intends to negotiate with, 
as it puts it, those “who have not betrayed Syria”. Like successive 
Israeli regimes, it will only talk with the ‘opposition’ it chooses to 
recognise. This includes, as well as pro-regime people posing as 
oppositionists, Haytham Manaa’s National Coordination Committee for 
Democratic Change, a group which has no influence whatsoever on the 
revolutionary fighters setting the agenda. The SNC – which does have 
some influence on the ground, and would have far more if it were 
sufficiently funded – is definitely not invited.

And negotiations won’t happen, secondly, because the regime won’t 
release the detainees, not yet at least. If it did release all 160,000, 
this would indeed be a sign that it had understood it could no longer 
torture, imprison and kill the Syrian people. It would be a reasonable 
starting point for negotiating the transition.

Why has the SNC been so reluctant to negotiate thus far? First there is 
the obvious moral point that a regime loses its legitimacy when it 
prosecutes war against its own people. As a criminal and a traitor, it 
forfeits its right to engage in national dialogue.

The point is correct, but in the face of such vast tragedy a moral point 
is not sufficient. It may be a stubborn and ultimately irresponsible 
idealism which clings to moral principle while a land, a people and 
their future are burning. A much more intelligent motive for opposing 
negotiations is hard-nosed realism.

In April 2011 a Presidential Decree lifted the Syrian Emergency Law, 
dissolved the notorious State Security Courts, and legalised peaceful 
protests. The next day, ‘Great Friday’, a lawyer asked permission to 
hold a protest in Hasakeh. He was immediately arrested by the security 
forces to whom he made the request. By the evening, at least 88 unarmed 
protestors had been murdered.

At this early stage Bashaar al-Assad lost credibility with a vast swathe 
of Syrians. If they didn’t before, they knew now that all talk of legal 
reform was irrelevant, because Syria is not run according to laws and 
institutions but by the Assad family and its unaccountable security 
agencies.The law, like the parliament and cabinet, is a fiction, a theatre.

Syrians learnt to watch what the regime did rather then what it said. It 
released Salafists from prison and murdered the proponents of 
non-violent protest. It unleashed shabeeha militias and instrumentalised 
sectarian tension. It savagely bombed some liberated areas but withdrew 
from Kurdish areas without a fight, even handing weapons over to 
PKK-linked militias. It applied a scorched earth policy which has 
negligible military effect but destroys any possibility of social or 
economic rebuilding.

Actions speak louder than words. The regime’s aim is not to negotiate a 
transition but, if it can’t retain total power, to create a splintered 
and permanently ungovernable country. In this way Assad hopes to survive 
as a warlord among warlords. Talking about talks provides him with time 
while distracting attention from his real aim.

Peace plans have been proposed by the Arab League, Kofi Annan and 
Lakhdar Brahimi, and Assad has scuppered the lot. Not for a day have his 
guns fallen silent.

So why is Moaz al-Khatib shifting position now? Probably because he sees 
no sign of the Coalition receiving the funds or arms it requires. The EU 
continues to embargo arms to the opposition; the US continues to prevent 
its Gulf allies from sending the necessary anti-tank and anti-aircraft 
weaponry. No funds for the SNC means extremely limited relevance on the 
ground. And the SNC doesn’t help its own cause – it still hasn’t named a 
transitional government.

Yet with resistance advances in the north, east and now south, the 
military tide is flowing steadily against al-Assad. Continuing reverses 
may allow the regime’s more intelligent minds to prevail over the 
bitter-enders (though to anticipate this would be naive). Al-Khatib’s 
meeting on Saturday with Russian foreign minister Lavrov may or may not 
be a sign that Russia, finally recognising that Assad will never regain 
control of Syria, is about to twist regime arms towards serious, rather 
than theatrical, negotiations.

Al-Khatib now says he’s been invited to Moscow. It remains to be seen 
whether the regime will eventually negotiate its own exit. In the 
meantime, al-Khatib and the SNC, who have made efforts to reach out to 
regime soldiers and minority groups, should do still more to address 
those who are tied to the regime not by ideology but by fear of the 
future. Syria’s future stability depends much more on understandings 
with those people than with the regime which currently holds them hostage.

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