Syria talks: Ruse to reset a cockfight

By Ameen Izzadeen
Most conflicts end after talks. Therefore, political idealists say that to save lives and resources, talks should precede conflicts. Sadly, the behaviour of political actors indicates that in most instances talks take place only when fights fail to resolve the disputes between them. Usually, aggressors believe that they are in a militarily stronger position than their adversaries. With arrogance blinding their vision, the aggressors often miscalculate their prospects for victory. Even in the face of setbacks, they believe that they can regroup and defeat the enemy and reject participation in any talks which they see as something for the cowards.
This process goes on until the aggressors find wisdom which often dawns at a point disadvantageous to them. A conflict becomes bloodier when all the actors — the aggressor and the victim, the state and the rebel group or the invader and the resistance – believe or miscalculate that they, with their might and strategies, can win. In such circumstances, the conflict takes the shape of a cockfight in which both birds die.
The Syrian war is like a cockfight watched by sadistic onlookers — world powers and powerful Middle Eastern countries. The ongoing talks in Switzerland do not necessarily mean that wisdom has dawned on the parties to the Syrian conflict. Rather, it is an intermission — for the powers behind the conflict to reset the game.
Before delving deeper into the politics of talks, a recent report put out by a team of international lawyers warrant some comments. The report’s authors, Sir Desmond de Silva, QC and Professor David Crane, both of whom are former chief prosecutors for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Geoffrey Nice, former lead prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, claim that the thousands of photographs which they have analysed indicate that the Syrian regime has committed war crimes.
However, the report loses its punch because it was funded by Qatar, which arms and finances the rebels fighting to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime. Besides, the report was commissioned by a London law firm called Carter-Ruck. Notwithstanding the gruesome photographs presented as evidence, analysts say the report is replete with many holes. They ask why did not the photographer who defected from the Syrian military hand over the photographs to a group such as Amnesty International. Why did he share only some of the pictures with the three investigators?
In addition, Crane, one of the investigators, was a former employee of the United States Defence Intelligence Agency and therefore the report’s fairness is questionable. Crane told the Guardian: “Now we have direct evidence of what was happening to people who had disappeared. This is the first provable, direct evidence of what has happened to at least 11,000 human beings who have been tortured and executed and apparently disposed of. This is amazing … We have the person who took those pictures. That’s beyond-reasonable-doubt-type evidence.”
But, Alex Lantier, writing for the World Socialist Web Site, says: “The report has no evidence to back up Crane’s claims, or even to prove that the victims were killed by Assad’s forces. All the ‘evidence’ cited by the report consists of unseen photographs allegedly located on a flash drive in the possession of an operative codenamed ‘Caesar,’ who has been working with Syrian opposition groups since September 2011. …. There is no credible explanation of why the Assad regime, if it had tortured and murdered 11,000 people, would have asked ‘Caesar’ to carefully document it.”
One wonders whether the release of the report with all its chilling details is aimed at whipping up public opinion in favour of western military intervention in the Syrian conflict. Public support for the war has been dwindling because even the Syrian rebels are being accused of committing barbaric crimes such as eating the liver of an Assad supporter they killed in battle and using chemical weapons.
That a section of the western media has rushed to give wide publicity to such a report with several holes underscores the nexus between the corporate media and imperial powers. Such relationship is not new. A notorious case was that of Nurse Nayirah. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, a weeping Nurse Nayirah told a US Congressional Caucus that Saddam Hussein’s soldiers took away the incubators in her hospital after throwing out the babies. Her tale of tears was corroborated by Amnesty International and sensationlised by the media. The then US President, George H. Bush, referred to her story to court public support for the war.
After the war ended, Nurse Nayirah’s lie was exposed. She was not a nurse. She was a daughter of the then Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. It was also revealed that the New York-based public relations firm Hill & Knowlton coached the young woman to lie.
The criticism of the western media and their embedded media culture is in no way an attempt to soft pedal the crimes of the Assad government. If there is credible proof, then Assad should face the consequences.
It is against this backdrop that one needs to look at the Geneva 2 talks. Whatever the circumstances are, some talk is better than no talk. More significantly, this is for the first time the Syrian government and the so-called rebel coalition are taking part in the talks. But Iran’s absence raises some questions.
Iran is a key player in the Syrian crisis. The UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon extended an invitation to Teheran but withdrew it under pressure. Iran certainly has some positive suggestions to end the crisis and it could act as a guarantor on behalf of the Assad government.
Another missing actor is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the most powerful rebel group in the Syrian quagmire. It has dismissed the talks as a betrayal.
Although some 30 countries and groups are taking part in the Geneva 2 process, the whole exercise is directed by the Western powers with the UN playing a perfunctory role.
With a spirit of compromise not evident, the Syrian talks are perhaps a ruse to reset the game — to unite and strengthen the moderate factions to take on the ISIS; to iron out the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, so that the post-Geneva 2 phase of the Syrian war will have a clear direction and purpose.
They want Assad to go. But Assad should stay and should be allowed to contest polls under UN supervision as part of a solution.
Meanwhile, the suffering Syrian people are praying for peace — a majority of them are not bothered whether the country is ruled by Assad or the rebels. They want to go back to their homes and come out of the misery created by outsiders who, driven by greed, thought Assad would be an easy prey like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and they could oust him and build their oil and gas pipelines to the Mediterranean.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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