A bloodbath of civilians, torture and murder of children, willful starvation of millions, forced displacement of a greater population such as the Middle East has never seen, a global jihadi festival. That is Syria today. In far less horrific environments, the world's major powers demanded ceasefire for warring parties, but not here.
Why? Conscience demands it, but not geopolitics. War, as has been said so often, is a failure of imagination, imagination of alternatives. The major powers (I will not call them "great") are backing opposite sides in this war, as is well known, with Russia and Iran the main allies of the Syrian regime, and Saudi Arabia, the government of Iraq, and especially Qatar backing the jihadi influx into Syria. To a tepid degree, the Western countries are backing the revolt and the opposition, not enough to win but enough to refuse Assad any way out. By all accounts it is a geopolitical stalemate.
This needs to change, because we are bleeding the people of Syria to death and destroying the future of Syrian civilization. Unlike Lebanon and Bosnia, where enforced ceasefire and stalemate at least saved the innocent and the civilizations, this is a spiral of destruction that can benefit the future of neither the Alewites, the Christians nor the Muslims of Syria.
The Western powers are now hearing respected men like Ryan Crocker suggest that they have to get used to the reality that Assad may have to stay. But that is not the way to stop the killing or end the stalemate. The opposition and the Gulf states, not to mention American leadership, can never accept the status quo ante. By contrast, the Russians and Iranians cannot accept the forcible removal of their ally and the rise of a Sunni jihadi state that will surely plunge Lebanon into war and the Shi'ites of Lebanon into desperation, not to mention the destruction of non-Muslim minorities.
"Ceasefire" must be socialized into the mindset of every party to this conflict. Each for its own reasons will see this as a "win" if it is framed properly. Assad will see it as a
win because he will have survived a war and a global effort to remove him from power. The opposition, excluding the radical jihadis, will see it as a win because the will control much of the country. If they are smart they will realize that a ceasefire will give them control over much more, and with time, the whole country -- this because the people are mostly with them, and where they are not, in deep Alewite country, they were never going to control that anyway. Obama will see it as a win because he will have staked his legacy on diplomacy and negotiations over war, and Russia and Iran will see it as a win because they will have stuck by their ally in the face of Western forces. The people will see it as a win because they will have stopped dying and starving, but what's more, their voices will have gained more and more of an upper hand, to a degree at which extremists, shabiha and mukhabarat, are forced back into the shadows by international presence, verifications of safety, and eventually internationally observed governance and elections.
The big losers will be those who fantasize about the continuation of an endless Assad dynasty. That is DOA, and everyone knows it. Another big loser is the radical jihadis, but they are being used by everyone, from Assad himself to Qatar, for tactical ends only. These young criminals, abused and abusing the Muslim world, will be herded out of the country for Burma or the Central African Republic, by both the FSA and Assad. They will move on until the Muslim world tires of the Gulf funders bleeding their youth and terrorizing Islamic lands by brainwashing these young criminals. My bet is that Saudi Arabia is already done with this abuse, and Qatar will have to be called out and humiliated if they persist in funding war in Syria after everyone else presses for ceasefire. Assad will cheat and abuse, but the more international presence there is throughout Syria, the harder this will become. This is why the UN will become crucial, which will only happen with greater Russian/American consensus and more American/Iranian normalization, which may be coming.
We need to hear the word "ceasefire" from the lips of major diplomats and strategists. The people of Syria will die without it, and everyone will gain something from ceasefire. Ultimately history suggests that ceasefire leads to war criminals scurrying about from one humiliating position to another until they are gone from history. Let "justice" step aside for a few years; seek justice for those innocents who are about to die tomorrow. Justice for all will come eventually -- not through the barrel of a gun, but through active, nonviolent consensus building among major powers, civil society investment in the people of Syria, and patience.
Dr. Marc Gopin, James Laue Chair at CRDC George Mason University, sits on the Foreign Policy and Religion Working Group of the United States Department of State.