Syria Could Turn Into Somalia if Peace Talks Fail, Says U.N.

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When Syrian President Bashar Assad met with the U.N.–Arab League envoy on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of peace talks that might bring an end to a civil war that has killed more than 115,000 Syrians, he made one thing clear. As long as foreign backers supported armed members of the opposition, Assad told former Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus, his regime would not play a part. Never mind that his own forces are equipped with Russian weaponry and funded and assisted in part by Iranian cash; military advisers from Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps; and Hizballah militants. Assad’s new red line all but guarantees that the proposed talks will not take place at the end of November as originally planned. In fact, if conditions on the ground in Syria do not change substantially in the coming weeks and months, and international pressure cannot force the warring parties to the table, it’s unlikely they will happen at all, say diplomats, analysts and government officials who closely follow the Syrian crisis.

If the talks do not take place, the risk is that Syria spirals out of control, sucking an already volatile region down with it. Brahimi, a veteran peace negotiator, said in an interview on Monday that the Syrian situation had the potential to be more dramatic, devastating and difficult than Afghanistan, Iraq and even the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war, all of which he knows firsthand. “The real danger that threatens this country is a kind of ‘Somalization,’” he said, referring to the war-torn and warlord-riven nation in the Horn of Africa that has had no real central government for the past two decades. “More sustained and more profound than what we have seen even in Somalia.”

It’s a grim prognosis. Can it be avoided? For months, the U.S., the U.N. and Russia have struggled to bring the warring parties together to discuss a political solution, a follow-up to an earlier conference held in Geneva in June 2012 that resulted in the recognition, by both sides, that continued war was not a solution. It’s about the only thing they do agree upon. In the lead-up to the proposed talks, dubbed Geneva II, the opposition has fractured over the question of whether or not Assad would even be able to take part in the discussions, with one of the strongest opposition parties baldly stating that simply to attend a meeting with Assad present would amount to “treason.” For his part, Assad says he refuses to negotiate with “terrorists.” U.S., Russian and U.N. envoys plan to meet on Nov. 5 to discuss the next step, and whether or not Geneva II can even happen.

(MORE: Amid Weekend Carnage in Syria, a Date for Peace Talks Is Announced)

Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., believes that with enough pressure the opposing parties can be driven to the table. “The Syrians at this point appear unable or unwilling to negotiate with each other or even agree on a way forward among themselves, so any hope for Geneva will have to come from the outside in — a U.S.-Russian road map that the Iranians, the Gulf and the West can agree upon.” He cites the chemical-weapons accord, in which Assad, with Russian encouragement, agreed to give up his arsenal in September to avert American air strikes, as a positive example of how the regime can be forced to make concessions. Similarly the opposition parties depend on the West and the Gulf countries for funding and supplies.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, is not so sanguine. He sees little evidence that the opposing sides will ever be able to overcome their differences, and he is not even sure that such a meeting would produce effective results. “We have this binary focus on the regime and the opposition, but I would wager that those two combined don’t represent the majority of Syrians today.” A foreign-imposed peace agreement is unlikely to bring lasting resolution, he says. “The only hope for stability in Syria is to bring the true representatives of the people into dialogue — the economic elites, tribal leaders and religious elements. Instead you have a regime which is not going to give up one inch of political power and an opposition that has no credibility on the ground.”

But getting what Shaikh calls the fence-sitters to speak up when they are under threat from both the regime and extremists within the opposition is far more difficult than bringing those who have less to loose to the table. Geneva II may be better than nothing, but if that too collapses, frustrating international efforts and alienating supporters, Syria may find itself even worse off.

MORE: Syria’s Breaking Bad: Are Amphetamines Funding the War?

9 comments
Karl
Karl

No it is weapons and foreign jihadists that are turning another quiet, fairly impoverished Arab state into a wreck. This time from Sunni jihadists, mostly from Arabia but some from a suburb near you, fanatics like the one who pulled off 9/11, and of course Israeli  military blunderbuss that can't resist throwing is' weight around. And Western governments hoping to install a pro-western regime in Damascus. So between Sunni fanatics, today's modern Prussian-style Israel, or London, Paris and Washington desperate to hang onto influence in a region where they have already burned all their bridges and are on their way out  just as surely as the Belgians, French and of course the ubiquitous British of those old days were on their way out of Africa and Asia following World War II. Creating an entire failed region will be Israel and the West''s poison gift to the next generation. Of course to many Israel firsters that's because these are the End Times, i.e.  a bunch of ignorant, fanatic home grown US nut jobs quite capable of pressing any button necessary to make sure these are the End Times for all of us. But these are controversial ideas unlike a vapid, hot air story that the UN thinks failed Syrian peace talks could create another Somalia. Maybe a balloon full of hot air but nobody will complain about it tomorrow. And that's how stories and headlines are picked. All in all our journalism is as hemmed in by politics as Russia's or almost China's. We are not exceptional in history, thank God in modern times there has only been one Nazi state - now there was exceptional-ism at work. Being an exception to the rules everyone else has to follow isn't all that they say it is. It can end up leaving a load of guilt behind for our grandchildren to live with, depending on how exceptional we want to be.

amidyousef1
amidyousef1

Do you Censor posts here? Or is it held for moderation?

Seems my post disappeared, can please check under the desk for it?

amidyousef1
amidyousef1

We are all Syrians, let's agree on peace and rebuild our homeland!

Here in USA, I am working on exposing EX regime supporters who fled the country and stole its wealth.

Exposing the Money Launderers and returning their monies to the Syrian people directly ( no matter what side ) this will offset THUGS Of SAUDI ARABIA who continue to hire mercenaries to attack innocent civilians...

Checkout my claim that PNC BANK is LAUNDERING top Syrian money and please share to expose this crime that's keeping SYRIAN war going http://www.amidyousef.com/pnc/

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

Somalia is a mess but it is their mess.  They have terrorism but it is their terrorism. Syria is a regional threat to the area.  Syria funds and supplies terrorists with state-of-the-art weapons.  If a new Syrian state emerges it will be hostile to the US and israel. So, perhaps a failed Syria would be better for everyone else than a strong well organized Syria.  

arvay
arvay

@Karl 

Masterful summary. 

The fact is that for the US, the region is ever less important. We've become an energy exporter (bad for the environment, good for our sanity). 

Gradually, the horrible mess left by the colonial powers, and exacerbated by the Cold War and our politicians' bound concubinage to the Israel Lobby -- will devolve into the same limited attention-span status awarded to the long and bloody Congo wars. A million people killed there, and the Americans yawn.

Russia is bidding for a major role in the area -- and they are welcome to it. They are, after all, fairly close, unlike us across the Atlantic. It will be amusing to watch Israel try its usual nonsense with Putin. 



Karl
Karl

@amidyousef1 maybe they thought it was spam, that's what it looked like to me but I didn't saying anything.

LordByng
LordByng

@Bluhorizon Better for Israel, you mean.  Because this is of course Israeli policy:  make failed states all round, the more the better.  Not better for Syrians, and not better for anyone else.  Only Israel is going to be able to maintain minefields and automated machine guns to prevent refugees from spilling over the border.  Only Israel will be complete insulated from the collapse.  Because of course as a Western bastion air-dropped into the Middle East, Israel is there but not there, with ever-higher walls and its chemical and nuclear weapons to defend them.

But in the long run this policy by Israel will be a disaster.  There will be things that can fly over walls that will eventually arrive, and Israel may find, like Kenya, that living next to Somalia is no easy thing.  They will come to regret the day they made their cool, calculated, cynical decision to create Somalia on their border.

hangooker
hangooker

@LordByng -- It's never good to have a failed state in the neighborhood.  The problem for Israel is that both sides in this civil war want to destroy Israel.  So, they have to make the same assessment that all governments make:  What is in our national interest?  Frankly,  failed, ever-warring Syria may be in their interest.  Why?  They'd rather have Syrians and Hez fighting Syrians and Al Qaeda than having them aim their weapons at Israel.  Endless war in Syria is good for Israel.  It may even be good for other players, such as Russia and Iran, who keep a client government even more dependent on them for survival....  Foreign relations is all about being cold and calculating, particularly in that part of the world.