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Is the failure of current policies towards Syria reaching a tipping point?

Sunday, 27 September 2015 10:29
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by Giuseppe Provenzano*
EPOS Insights


An overall failure towards Syria?

The admission that the much-trumpeted program of vetting and training "moderate" militias that were to battle both Assad and Da'esh (ISIS) has actually achieved nothing could be the last straw leading to a new strategic thinking towards the war-torn country. After more than four years of intense fighting that have ravaged one of the few countries in the Middle East that had managed to stay out of actual wars for many decades, there are very few signs that speak highly of Western policies and programs.

All of the main actors in the country seem to be not palatable to Western governments: the hollow shell of the former Syrian state retains control over diminishing key areas, while keeping operative a campaign of bombing civilians with unlawful weapons, and the Islamist militias that were cheered on at the beginning of the conflict have turned out to be a nightmare for many Syrians. Finally, the Kurdish forces that have enacted a self-defense policy based on ethnic solidarity are now being heavily hit by our Turkish ally, in a deafening silence, even in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is not the best time for being a Syrian, and the flood of people escaping the country and bordering Iraq is a clear sign of that.

Whereas the European strategy has long been to pretend that the matter does not simply exist, European governments have seemed to be shocked to discover that such policy carried sour consequences for them, as a stream of people came to knock on their doors, fleeing the chaos they refused to defuse, leaving the job to others. It turns out that inaction carries consequences in the same ways that action does.

It is not surprising that a panicking European Union turns once again to its majority partner for fixing the mess, and thus that the announcement that some negotiations with Iran and Russia could be possible for settling pending issues politically has been announced by Kerry while visiting his British counterpart.

Is Diplomacy Rising as an Option?

After the US military had to admit the size of the sheer failure of its vetting and training program, the spotlight is being once again set on the Secretary of State. Something similar happened with its Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif. After the Islamic Republic’s elites have seemingly agreed that the inflammatory rhetoric is ill serving the country’s interests abroad, star general of the external action Quds forces and his belligerent declarations are being subtly taken out from the media. This has given room to moderate Zarif, which has been capitalizing on the nuclear deal for sending signals of possible engagement on Syria. He has recently announced in an op-ed on a Lebanese newspaper that Iran is ready to engage with everyone who would listen in order to find a political resolution.

US negotiator have been extremely careful never to link expressly the nuclear negotiation with a broader settlement with Iran in the region. That would have been a red line for many of US allies, thus unnecessarily burdening an already complex process. Additionally, it was felt that stressing the possibility of including Iran in regional settlements would have bolstered the Iranian side for winning more concessions. As the matter appears now to be settled, and with the worsening of a humanitarian crisis that it is pressuring unwilling European allies into relaxing their border rules, even the most suspicious actors seem to have concluded that integrated diplomacy is the only way forward. "We need to get to the negotiation. That is what we're looking for and we hope Russia and Iran, and any other countries with influence, will help to bring about  that, because that's what is preventing this crisis from ending," declared Kerry at his meeting with Hammond.

Kerry has gained a personal weight in negotiating with Iran, thanks to the success of the nuclear accord in Lausanne, and could exploit such trust capital for reaching out to them. It rests to be seen if the Saudis and Turkey could let the process materialize, as all stakeholders are needed in the process for it to be meaningful.

What is the Role for Europe?

The European Union seem to be great absentee from this picture. As a bickering mélange unable to project serious policy abroad, it is showing once again the structural weakness of its Common Foreign and Security Policy. If the nuclear negotiations have shown that when member states don’t consider a matter critical to them, they can actually agree to a common foreign policy that it is actually successful, the narrow interests of particular politicians and resistance to open the fortress built up in Europe have brought its foreign policy capacity to a grinding halt. That is both a great missed opportunity for becoming less junior in our relationship with the US concerning Middle East policy and a clear sign the foreign policy in Europe needs a major structural overhaul.

Rocked by unnecessary political crises and absurd showdowns at its frontiers, the European Union is demonstrating to be unable to help negotiate peace in Syria through a comprehensive approach, yet it laments that those fleeing the country have no business coming here.

Once again, its interests will be served only when and if other actors will choose to reach a conclusion. The Obama and Rouhani administrations seem to be gravitating towards it, and Russia could be a positive enabler if everybody could be ready to really concede something, as they did for the nuclear issue. It seems still a bit premature and fraught with huge risks, but it is nevertheless a trend worth noticing.

However, such grand negotiations for Syria can only happen when the major Sunni stakeholders in the region agree (or are made to agree) that Da’esh is a greater threat to them than any Iranian scheme or plot against them. The next months are going to be both dramatic and interesting on this regard.


This article has been published in Italian here

**Giuseppe Provenzano has an MA in International Relations of Asia and Africa and is currently an MA student of the School of Government at LUISS University. He is an expert in MENA affairs and "Shia Crescent" issues. Additionally, he manages a news page on Facebook, named Focus MiddleEast


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s vision

Last modified on Sunday, 27 September 2015 10:57
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