Op-Ed: Fixing Geneva II, Syrian peace talks

Posted Jan 29, 2014 by Frank Kaufmann
The international war being waged inside of Syria has created a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions. Estimates of numbers killed in the war since March 2011 range from 94,000 to 130,000.
Lakhdar Brahimi
Lakhdar Brahimi
There are now 2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and 4 million Syrians internally displaced.
Making and fomenting war is a multi-trillion dollar industry. Many succumb to this vilest of all profit-seeking. What most fail to note however is that peace-seeking is an industry of its own. Hundreds of millions, even billions, change hands in the name of seeking peace.
For those people and groups who live for the sake of peace, or want to be seen or known as such, there is always the lure to be associated heroically with the tragedy of the hour. The complexity and intractability of the Syria war, for better or worse, make this war the great draw, the peace seekers’ Super Bowl.
It is understandable for nations, powers, civil leaders, and subject area experts to be anxious — even desperate — to dampen the rage causing overwhelming human suffering. What is not acceptable however is for people of this stature and caliber to be so careless, thoughtless, and haphazard in creating world level peace conversations of this pressing importance.
This lack of careful analysis and preparation, this rush to have both government and rebels at the table, this lust to be the great and victorious mediator, has brought about so-called peace talks (Geneva II) that screamed disorder even before the talks started. UN Secretary General Bang Ki Moon invited and dis-invited Iran in less than 24 hours, eventually buckling under US pressure, foreshadowing the sure likelihood that Geneva II will produce meager to no results at best.
Lebanon has over one million Syrian refugees inside its borders, making up a full one-fifth of Lebanon’s entire population. This would be the equivalent of the United states taking in 60 million war refugees. Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Adnan Mansour  said of Geneva II, “It’s crazy that the Iranians are not here – how can there be agreement without them?” Not “ill advised,” not “counter-productive,” but “crazy.” This from foreign minister of the country with one out of every six people being a Syrian refugee.
The leader of the talks, Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations Special Envoy to Syria, says: “We have not achieved anything but we are still at it and that is good enough as far as I am concerned.” Really? Being “still at it” is good enough? This from the lead negotiator of a world conflict?
Nic Robertson’s CNN report after day one, “His voice seems vaguely to reflect moderate exasperation but perhaps I am confusing that with tiredness. Tuesday was “not an easy day” he said, neither have the past days he reflected. “The coming days” will be the same, he added as much for his own foreboding as ours.”
The New York Times after day one reports, “The first face-to-face peace talks by antagonists in the Syria conflict appeared to deadlock on Monday, with enormous differences over the basic purpose of negotiations.”
It is hard to move toward progress when participants do not agree on the purpose of the negotiations.
BBC, after identifying that a full third of the 119 members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces were boycotting the talks, concluded, “Even if some kind of political agreement is reached, it will be virtually impossible to implement it on the ground, given that the talks are an irrelevance to most of the major fighting forces.”
In Montreaux, before Geneva, the US presented documents to accuse the Syrian government of executing and torturing citizens. On day one in Geneva, the Syrian government presented documents showing US military support for anti-government forces.
With gaffe, after boycott, after differences of the basic purpose of the talks, after the weary minimalism of the main negotiator bragging, “we’re still at it,” one can only demand to know how on earth it is possible that the most powerful people on earth, the most powerful nations on earth, the most powerful institutions on earth could convene so bald a chaos and disgrace to address a humanitarian crisis of such massive proportions. Have these people no shame? Are we really expected to watch hundreds of thousands or possibly millions spent on meetings so completely without anticipation, preparation, and sound organization?
It is time that we on a global scale awaken from the moribund habits and assumptions that political figures leading nation states, and a United Nations as a nest suffocating with national self-interest can really be expected to produce peace. It quite simply is not in the nature of any such groups to be peace-makers. None or nearly none of the people in Geneva for these talks are peacemakers. Where in God’s name is peace expected to come from in talks full of people armed to the teeth, and chest deep in war, weapons of war, greed, and aggression?
This crisis deserves better. The people of Syria deserve better.
Everyone knows that the war in Syria belongs to United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is simply and wholly a non-starter that the US and Russia “host” peace talks bringing to the table barely representative rebel forces and the government of Syria, when they themselves have no shared or common commitment to reconciliation.
Preparation for true peace talks for Syria require:
1. A UN or otherwise independent mediator/negotiator dedicated to step-wise talks and negotiations, who is in nobody’s pocket
2. All proxy war monger and arms producing, selling, and supplying countries be utterly denied any “sponsoring” role, and instead be recognized, designated, and treated as common war perpetrators
3. All party talks be resolutely forbidden until proxy war mongers be put through bi-lateral peace talks under the authority of a third party negotiator. This means that the first Syria peace talks need to be between the United States and Russia. The second Syria peace talks be between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Each of these two sets of adversaries need to sign treaties that all their actions will be for absolutely no other purpose than to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
4. Once the United States and Russia are pledged to stop perpetrating war in Syria, and Saudi Arabia and Iran are pledged to stop perpetrating war in Syria, then all four of these powers should be brought into four party talks and all compelled to sign a binding treaty that compels these four powers to act only for the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.
5. Once these four powers are under treaty, all four together should meet with the Syrian government to learn of its position, to support its efforts to stop all hostilities, and help it to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Syria. Then these four powers should meet with the rebels and opposition, learn of their position, support their efforts to stop all hostilities, and support their efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Syria. These treaties should include and require all non-Syrian fighters to be deported from Syria and returned to their countries of origin.
6. After the rebels independently, and the Syrian government independently sign treaties and agreements with the four powers pledging to cease all hostilities, and devote all resources to the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, only then should there be any such thing as “Geneva II” that has so foolishly been convened in this rushed, fatuous, and wasteful manner at this juncture.