Geneva III - set-up to fail
Even before any negotiations got off the ground in Geneva, the basic conflicts between the participants were on full display. And, to no-ones surprise, less than a week after the start of the so-called proximity talks, Staffan de Mistura suspended the process until at least February 25. And even if the de Mistura manages to get everybody inside the same room sometime after February 25, the chances that the next round will produce any concrete and sustainable solutions are slim indeed.
The reasons for this state of affairs are the same as before; Syria cannot be separated from the conflict in Iraq; the two most fearsome and efficient actors -- the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda-groups -- are not (for obvious reasons) participating; and there is no long-term idea of how to defeat those actors militarily and there is still -- five years after the meltdown in Syria -- no serious ideas of how to put these two countries back together again, or if that is even a viable option; there is no attempt to seriously counter the fact that Russia, Iran and their allies are busy pushing for a military conclusion during the talks (the continued Russian air-war against the non-IS oppositional forces in Syria was a key-cause for de Misturas' decision to suspend the talks); the most efficient and -- for now at least -- the only reliable military force able to take on the Islamic State -- the Kurds -- was not invited either, thanks to Turkey; the very obvious fact that the countries meeting to challenge the Islamic State, are not even close to have a similar take on what is needed to bring the mayhem in Syria to an end. Turkey, for example, have been spending a lot more time going after the Kurds militarily than the IS, and it was the increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan who vetoed any sizable Kurdish participation in the talks. And, as stated, Russia is busy attacking everybody except the IS in order to stabilize President Assad, and break the back of the non-IS oppositional forces.
To this list can be added the most important long-term challenge to defeat Islamism; namely the ideological and religious tenets behind it. So far, counter-initiatives towards this goal have been woefully inadequate. When it comes to social media and modern communication and propaganda, the IS wins hands-down. Therefore, it's hoped that the participants in any future talks in Geneva (if they indeed will take place), for all their shortcomings and scheming, will address these issues with some vigor. And the way to do that is to work with people in the region. The people often times on the receiving end of Islamist violence. Initiatives from Morocco, the UAE (such as the Marrakech Declaration focusing on promoting peace and protecting minorities in Muslim Lands for example, jointly convened by Morocco and the UAE) and Jordanian efforts to counter militant Salafism, are cases in point. These efforts, based and developed in the region, are in the long run probably going to be more important than anything dreamt up inside the Beltway or in the salons in Brussels.
By neglecting the ideological and religious parts of the struggle, a situation is created whereby most Syrians are squeezed between a rock (Assad and allies) and a hard place (IS and AQ). Instead of creating space for the kind of oppositional groups that actually where present in the beginning -- before the war churned up the country completely -- the petty posturing and political preaching in Geneva is solidifying the current stalemate. It's worth recalling that there is a clear disconnect between the sober and rational warnings about the war against this global terrorist adversary, heard from military and Intelligence commanders, and the debating points uttered by politicians and pundits alike. We'd do well to remember that defeating these adversaries are going to take decades. For that reason alone, it's worth supporting initiatives from Western allies such as Morocco, UAE, Jordan and others.