An impression has formed lately that, as government-owned China Daily newspaper commented editorially last week, the prospects of a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis are looking up.
The China Daily attributed two main factors to the paradigm shift: “setbacks it [Syrian opposition] has suffered recently against government troops amid dwindling military support from foreign countries, and the circumspection with which the West now sees the faction-ridden and extremist-infiltrated opposition.”
But to my mind, the big factor is the shift in the geopolitical templates. The Syrian crisis is ultimately geopolitical and in Cold War terminology, one could say it was edging dangerously close at one point to becoming a ‘proxy war’ between Russia and Iran on one side and an array of forces — western and regional — on the other side.
Indeed, a sea change has appeared. The comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday during the visit to Washington by his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh suggests that a serious bid to bring about a political transition in Syria is underway.
Interestingly, President Barack Obama failed to predict the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Again, Kerry and Judeh point blank refused to be drawn into defining a timeline for Bashar to step down.
The new mantra is that the bloody conflict is untenable and a political discourse somehow needs to kick in. Judeh said candidly, “I think that rather than setting timelines, we have to start looking at ways and means of bridging respective positions so that we can arrive at a political dialogue taking place and resulting in what we all want, which is a transition and an end to this continuing violence.”
He saw the futility of asking Bashar to step down — “I think you have to go down the middle and try to bridge the two positions together. And I think we’ve seen some initiatives in that regard.” Kerry said US would prefer that Bashar quits, but is in no position to lay down timelines and would think that “at some point in time” the Syrian president may quit.
But Bahsar himself is not yet convinced he should quit, and, therefore, US would make efforts to influence his thinking — although there is no certainty about the success of such efforts. The bottom line in all this is, to quote Kerry, “you want to avoid, if you can, I emphasize – the implosion of the state, because that’s dangerous for everybody. And it proposes the possibility of the worst kinds of outcomes.”
Kerry hinted at efforts to bridge the hiatus with Russia so as to “find more common ground.” He spoke to the Jordanian king Abdullah who is due to visit Moscow.
The best part of Kerry’s remarks is that Washington has no desire to fight a proxy war in Syria. In sum, Bashar is becoming Russia’s baby. Moscow is preparing to host in the coming weeks a flurry of Syria-related diplomatic activity.
Meanwhile, Syria is but one fish in the Middle Eastern pond for Kerry — and not even the big one. He is casting his net wide for his maiden diplomatic voyage abroad.
– February 14, 2013