Secretary of State John Kerry is in a bind. The US claims that the purpose of its two-plus year covert and overt support for rebels in Syria is to establish democracy in that country. But to get there the US has backed an artificially cemented together gaggle of expatriate oppositionists who are less supported in Syria than was US-backed Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress in Iraq. On the ground in Syria the "moderate" rebels the US has supported have turned out to be allied with -- and in some cases a PR front for -- Islamic fundamentalists of the al-Qaeda variety.
To get to "democracy" in Syria, the US has allied with the most undemocratic forces in a "we must destroy the village to save the village" strategy.
With the Geneva II talks just days away, Kerry cannot thus far even muster his exile Syrians joined together by the US and the "Friends of Syria" to attend. The "Syrian Opposition Coalition," meeting in a secret location in Istanbul, is said to be voting today on whether to attend the conference, though this vote has been postponed before.
The group itself is irrelevant because it brings no constituency to the table. It represents nothing nor can it command anything on the ground in Syria. None of the fighting groups in Syria answer to this organization therefore any agreement would be aspirational rather than implementable on the side of the opposition. Neither the FSA nor the Islamic Front or al-Nusra nor any other of the fundamentalist groupings take orders from the US-backed exiles.
Nevertheless, Kerry's diplomacy has proceeded as if none of this mattered. To the US administration it is still three years ago and the battle cry is still "Assad must go." The conference, according to Kerry is simply to decide on a transitional government to lead Syria to its democratic future. Thus, according to Kerry, it goes without saying that Assad must go:
Any figure that is deemed unacceptable by either side - whether President Assad or a member of the opposition - cannot be a part of the futureThus in the mind of Kerry and the US administration, the precondition of this conference is the overthrow of Syrian President Assad. The problem is that few others see it what way. As RPI advisor Hillary Leverett points out:
The Russians are completely against that interpretation. The Iranians, another critical player in this saga, are not going to sign onto that. It's really a formula for diplomatic failure.The main reason the US refuses to allow Iran to participate in the conference is that it failed to sign the Geneva I statement, which established the precondition that a transitional government must be set up in Syria by outsiders.
US policy is schizophrenic and delusional. By offering covert and overt support to rebel fighters in Syria the US has paved the way for the rise of al-Qaeda-linked groups like al-Nusra and its rivals in ISIS and other smaller groups.
Yet Kerry seems oblivious to this fact, as he states:
The world needs no reminder that Syria has become the magnet for jihadists and extremists. It is the strongest magnet for terror of any place today. So it defies logic to imagine that those whose brutality created this magnet, how they could ever lead Syria away from extremism and towards a better future is beyond any kind of logic or common sense.Even a casual reading of Kerry's words should raise some eyebrows. By his own assessment it "defies logic" that the US could ever be justified in leading Syria "away from extremism and towards a better future." After all, the unfortunate reality he describes above was created by the US and its partners as a means to overthrow the Assad government. Before US support for rebels, Syria was not a magnet for jihadists and extremists, just as before the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq there was no al-Qaeda in the country. Now both of these US projects are riddled with them.
Geneva II will either be a farce or a fiasco.