The Geneva II process is the best hope to a conflict without any good solutions.

There are no good solutions to the conflict in Syria.  We have already seen the Syrian government accept the UN Security Council backed UN-Arab League envoy, for it to fail and chemical weapons used subsequently. Moreover, we have seen how even when the Geneva communique was issued on 30 June 2012, it has been very difficult to get all sides with interest in the conflict around the table.  The sticking points are simple, the Assad Regime believes it has a sovereign right to deal with this civil war, where as the Geneva process requires:
  1. The establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers – which includes members of the government and opposition.
  2. The establishment of a meaningful national dialogue process.
  3. Review of the constitutional order and legal system.
  4. Free and fair multiparty elections.
  5. Full representation of women in all aspects of the transition.
For the Assad Regime these premises are unacceptable, and the notion of a transitional government is also unacceptable to the Russian’s and Iranian’s.  However, because of other international events the Geneva II process is all that is on the table.
Part of the problem is that the conflict in Libya was supposed to be about preventing a genocide, which is why it managed to get UN backing, but this turned into a de facto regime change mission by the French, British and Americans.  As such, the Russians and Chinese governments have blocked a UN Security Council route to solving the Syria conflict.  Without any political will for military intervention, and the UN system blocked, all that is left are diplomatic solutions between international, regional and local actors.  Geneva II is the only show in town.
So what are the sticking points of Geneva II?
In addition to the Assad regime not wanting to give up power, it is clear that the Syrian opposition is very divided in terms of what they want, but also their desires to compromise and ability to communicate their demands.  Yet, making this more complicated it is clear that whilst the Geneva communique was being drawn up, there was less attention to how terrorists organisations were taking advantage of the conflict.  Now this is a multiplayer conflict between the Assad regime, the Syrian opposition, and terrorist organisations seeking to utilise the conflict for both political and training purposes.  This has changed the strategic calculations being made in Washington and European capitals.  The level of corridor diplomacy at Geneva II reflects this, but so does the increasing divide between the US Department of State, where John Kerry is reported to accept that Geneva II has failed, and the White house that wants to hold course on its current Syria strategy.  So it is not simply a case that the talks are destined to failure because of divides between those around the table, but also because since the Geneva process was envisaged facts on the ground have changed and helped shift strategic interests over what the solution should look like.
What does this all mean for the second round of talks?
The Geneva process is not over, and is not destined for failure entirely.   Being led by Lakhdar Brahimi, there isn’t a more experienced or appropriate peace-maker in the world, and this should provide hope.  However, it is clear that the vision set out in the Geneva communique is very unlikely to emerge. High level members of the Assad regime will not step down, because this will leave them open to the international criminal system for crimes against humanity – which are not just linked to the chemical weapons attacks but new evidence of collective punishment.  The best case scenario is that a ceasefire is agreed and holds, so that humanitarian aid can get through.  Whilst this will not be a success overall for the diplomatic process, it may well be for the 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance (6.5 million are internally displaced; 2.4 million are refugees in neighbouring countries) and in particular the 2.5 million people that cannot currently be reached.  The Geneva II process is their best hope to a conflict without any good solutions.


RT Crossfire Advanced Questions and Talking Points

We filmed an episode of Crosstalk today, so I thought I would share my talking points in advance of the show being aired on Monday.  Not everything here was said, but the questions they sent in advance will give you a broad sense of what was said on the show.

Is the term Arab Spring or Arab Awakening appropriate anymore? Do we
need to invent a new and different term to describe what is happening
in the Arab Middle East today?
It was never appropriate in the beginning.  When you spoke to protesters in the individual countries they would always refer to their countries “revolutions”.  I think our best method of looking at the phenomenon in the region, is to keep referring to them in this manner.  This helps us keep on track of the fact that whilst there was a “demonstration” effect that helped them spread across the region, all the revolutions were country specific.  It is safer to refer to the “revolutions” occurring through the region.  This is also particularly the case, as we don’t, and have never known, the directions these revolutions will take.  Spring and Awakening suggests a transition process to democracy, and it is far from guaranteed that this will be the case.
What to the countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria have in
common today (if any thing beyond being Arab Muslim countries)?
These countries still have a lot in common beyond being Arab Muslim countries. They have deeply troubled economies, high youth unemployment, a disproportionately high youth demographic, deep troubles with rule of law and security.  These are in fact the same conditions that led to the uprisings in the first place.  They differ in many of the problems they face, but broadly speaking the underlined causes of the revolutions are still there.  
Over two years ago many in the west (and their proxies on the ground
in the Arab Middle East) talked of democracy and western values in a
region in the hands of dictators for decades. Where does democracy
stand today in the region?
Any one who has studied democracy in the Arab world over decades will tell you that the region always takes one step forward, and two steps back.  But the Arab spring demonstrates that there is popular demand for rights, dignity and freedom.  The revolutions are a major leap forward for democracy in the region, and the genie has been let out of the bottle.  There is less willingness to accept the security guarantee of dictators, as the people in the region see that this hasn’t provided them with the basic things they need in their daily lives.  Of course, the situation on the ground differs across each of the countries, and some are moving forward more rapidly with what look like basic democratic institutions than others.  But overall, democratisation is a long process, and we certainly stand in a place where democracy looks more plausible today than it did in 2010.
To what degree have events in Syria been a “game changer” for the region?
Events in Syria are very important, and have important regional repercussions.  But overall, what happens in Syria is going to have little effect on the domestic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  We also have an important example of a more successful transition in Yemen, which shouldn’t be forgotten.  The problem with Syria has to do with the nature of the state structure.  The security forces are tied to the regime itself, which wasn’t the case in Tunisia and Egypt, and NATO intervention in Libya cancelled that particular dynamic out.  Are there going to be serious security problems in Syria for the forceable future, that will impact Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon?  They certainly will, but alternative trajectories are in place for the countries already undergoing revolutions.
Has western overt and/or covert involvement been a plus or minus in
the region over the past two years?
There was a period when US and EU involvement in the region was particularly high – throughout 2011-2012.  There was a greater emphasis on trying to promote democracy, and on helping successful democratic transitions to take place.  The September 11 embassy attacks, however, have lowered the willingness of the US to focus on this, and return to a more traditional “security and interests” focus.  So post-2012 the US has pulled back its presence in the region, and missed important opportunities.  Because of the problems with the way EU foreign policy is conducted and made, they have followed in the US foot steps.  

The show airs on Monday, so any feed back is welcome on here or twitter @ozhassan.

Postscript:  Link to Youtube show

Obama’s Speech on Syria: politically shrewd, but not leadership

Obama’s red line was crossed on August 21st with 1400 dead from chemical attacks in Syria. The UN weapons inspection team has landed and Obama has been briefing US senators all day. The UK has voted not to participate in any military intervention, France is keen to participate, and US military assets are in place. Russia is arguing that the Syrian regime using weapons is absurd, and Iran has declared that if the US attacks Syria it would be the spark for something larger in its “shadow war”. This is the situation as Obama began making his speech this evening.

What commentators missed in the run up to this speech is just what a fix Obama is now in. Elected to end a war in the Middle East, starting another is not an attractive option. Using most of his political capital on domestic issues has also left him vulnerable at home – as senators such as McCain act daily to undermine the Presidents credibility. As such when the President argues tonight that a decision would be made by Congress if it will intervene in Syria, the administration was laying down the gauntlet and playing a shrew political game that will only strengthen the President. If Congress say no, the President save face internationally passing political responsibility to the legislature; if congress say yes, he has a mandate for action based on the democratic values of the US. This is a politically astute move that takes us back to Obama’s Chicago politics. What it is not, is leadership in the Middle East from the executive office of the US. This being said, buying time through this move is in and of itself a good move, that will hopefully allow cooler heads to prevail. What the White House needs is a strategy, it appears they have one at home, but are yet to develop one for the worlds most immediate crisis.

English: Barack Obama delivers a speech at the...