A few months after the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, with the insistence of the Syrian regime on the use of the highest levels of violence and military solutions in the face of peaceful demonstrations and civil protests, and with the increase of regional and international concern over the fate of Syria and its people, who were peacefully protesting, facing a war machine that was unleashed by a merciless regime, the closest parties to the Syrian issue started to pose some political initiatives, hopping to deescalated the complex situation, and stop the regime’s violence before it became a raging war that would destroy Syria and spread to neighbouring states.
There was almost 10 key initiatives aimed at solving the Syrian tragedy, and an equivalent number of specified initiatives which were earmarked for specific aspects or specific areas or individual matters. In general, these initiatives shared no similarities, and did not pursue a clear escalating approach against the regime and its war, and were volatile, tough sometimes, to the benefit of the people and the opposition, and other times were slack with the regime, and did not achieve the minimum for the Syrian people. The only shared faculty of all these initiatives was their failure to alleviate the tragedy the slightest.
A record number of Arab, regional and international initiatives were posed, and no other war during the last century received such number. These initiatives involved Arab and international entities, such the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations, the European Union and others; and many countries who were involved or influential in the Syrian affairs, led by the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and China, as well as Arab and regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt and Iran.
The quantity did not produce a quality, and all these powers countries and organizations were unable to pass any of the previously mentioned initiatives, for many reasons related to the differences between the countries that were connected to the Syrian issue, and the desire of many of them to exploit the Syrian tragedy to achieve their aspirations, bargaining on other files, and using the initiatives as a way to procrastinate and waste time and delay the solution; because these initiatives were not consistent with their policies or aspirations, prompting them to disrupt and delay the solution, awaiting a change of political or military circumstances, which could be more convenient to them; on top of all that was the intransigence of the Syrian regime and its attachment to power, opening the door for other states to grossly interfere in Syrian affairs, to ensure the continuation of Bashar al-Assad and his regime in power.
Therefore, the texts of all these initiatives fell short, unenforceable, technically fragmented and incomplete in procedural elements, holding within the reasons of their failure, as well as echoing regional and international disputes, making them an accurate picture of the political conflicts at the time of their issue.
Early on, in November 2011, after nearly eight months of the start of the Syrian revolution, when the number of people killed by the regime was already over ten thousand, the Arab League made a plan to stop the violence and killings, that plan consisted of 13 items and was more like a call for reform, calling on peaceful negotiations between the regime and the opposition to stop the bloodshed, and demanded the regime withdraw its military forces from the cities, release the revolutionary detainees, and start a wide and significant political reform, starting from separating the military from political and civic life, and to negotiate under the auspices of the Arab League for the transition to a pluralistic democratic system of governance, represented by a coalition government of national unity to pave the way for transparent parliamentary elections, all the way to conduct open multi-party elections, with everybody participating including al-Assad.
Arabs pre-empted international intervention, and tried to put forward a plan to stop the war, but the regime met the initiative with recklessness and aggression, and ruined all the Arab endeavours, restricted the movement of the league monitors, monitored them and prevented them from meeting with activists, and even targeted them. The Syrians were certain that their regime would not accept the initiative, because they have known it for five decades, and they knew the extent of its clinging to power, and the extent of its tightened control on the state with all its resources to guarantee its survival.
Despite the regime’s aggressive attitude towards the Arab initiative, the Arabs did not despair, especially some of the Gulf states, who saw the alliance of the Syrian regime and Iran as a threat, so they decided to follow their quest, believing that they would either succeed, or work, in the event of failure, to transfer the whole issue to the international community, who could then impose a solution.
In January 2012, there was another Arab initiative, a little stronger than the preceding one, because it demanded the regime to conduct a political dialogue with the opposition within two weeks, in order to form a national unity government within two months, and then to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections, raising the roof of demands by requesting the Syrian regime to assign a head of the delegation, Vice President Farouq Shara, to negotiate with the opposition; for which the regime raised the roof too, armed with the power of Iran, which began sending military and security experts in the suppression of uprisings and revolutions, declaring its utter rejection, and considered that the Arabs were interfering in the internal Syrian affairs and violate its sovereignty, and concealed Shara from the political scene.
With the regime closing the door completely in the face of Arab initiatives, and Tehran siding crudely and openly with the regime, and the absence of any regional powers who were able to influence it and stop its violence, and prevent it from escalating the militarily solution, and the use of air force against civilians, the interference of the international community was inevitable, through the United Nations at the beginning.
During his tenure as an envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, Kofi Annan put a plan to end the war in Syria, and in March 2012 the Security Council approved it, and called on the Syrian authorities to “fully and immediately apply” it, and it did not at that time include the Assad leaving power.
The plan included six points, the most important was to start an inclusive political process led by the Syrians, and to stop all acts of armed violence, and the application of a daily truce to allow the introduction of aid and the release of detainees of peaceful political activities, and to ensure the freedom of the press, freedom of enterprise, and the right to demonstrate peacefully.
At this point, the Russians began to weight in to influence the Syrian file, and to gain an exceptional grip on it, that the Russian support to the regime was not only political, but militarily too, by providing weapons and experts, and in another stage it had become economical, as the master of the Kremlin found that the Syrian war was his gold chance to control in the Middle East, on the one hand as a response to being marginalized by the United States and Europe, in the Libyan file in particular, and to recover the polar role of Russia, parallel to the United States in the world, on the other.
This Russian openness to the Assad regime, made the latter more secure and determined to thwart any political initiative, believing that failed initiatives would allow it the opportunity to regain the control of Syria, where it began to lose important strongholds to the armed opposition. Thus, the regime worked on failing the mission of the United Nations observers, drowning them in details -which was promised earlier by its foreign minister- and because the initiative was issued in a format that allowed the management of conflict, not ending it, and relied on the voluntary and ethics of the Syrian regime and its goodwill, Annan decided to submit his resignation.
Under pressure, and the regime losing control of land, losing about a third of the country’s territory, and the Iranian competing with the Russians for the political and military decision in Syria, the international working group, which included the permanent members of the Security Council, Arab and regional countries members, in June 2012 during a conference held in Geneva, put the principles of a transition phase, and released (Geneva 1) statement, which included several points including: the establishment of transitional body with full executive governing powers, including members of the government and the opposition and other groups, while maintaining government institutions including the army and security and submit them to the transitional governing body, which would also reconsider the constitutional and legal system, and conduct free and fair multiparty elections.
The main problem with the (Geneva 1 statement) was the vague formula, and the general uncertainty of expandable explanations and interpretations, which did not specify the fate and location of Al-Assad, and did not put a timetable, and did not impose mandatory items. It seems that this fogginess and probability for open interpretation were accepted by the United States and Russia in particular, and perhaps were favoured by them; because they set the general framework which they wanted, leaving the rest to the circumstance and time. The regime and Russia quickly took advantage of the gaps in this statement to play with, miscarrying it, and sending two rounds of negotiations flat, prompting UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to step down as well.
Time passed without results, and the international parties were happy with that, because for them the advantages of a prolonged crisis outweighed those of ending it, especially for the United States and Russia, who did not have any problem if Syria was turned into a quagmire or shifting sands. Just to save face, now and then, they would take some decisions to suggest to the world and the Syrians that their case was still open, thus, the UN resolution 2042 in April 2014 was released, provided sending unarmed military observers mission to Syria to monitor the much needed cease-fire, which of course had not been implemented too, because the real goal was to waste time and not to take the first steps towards a solution. A week later, another UN resolution was passed under the number 2043, to complement the first one, calling the parties involved to protect the monitoring mission, and to report every fifteen days, but even this supplementary resolution came to practically nothing.
At this stage, the Iranians were controlling the military decision of the Syrian regime, while the Russians were in control of its politics; and the vanguards of international terrorist organizations were flocking to Syria, especially (the organization of the Islamic state) and (Al-Nusrah Front ), and getting stronger by the minute; and their penetration came as a prize for the regime and Russia, because it strengthen their argument to change the basics of the Geneva 1 statement, which was extremely troubling to the regime.
In February 2014, with the humanitarian situation in Syria deteriorating into an eye watering level, with widely prevailing killings and displacement, the Security Council passed Resolution 2139 on the eve of the third anniversary of the revolution, but it was a purely relief based decision and did not include any political items, and was issued only as a response to humanitarian appeals, and had no effect on the ground, and never been applied in practice.
The regime and its allies, Russia and others, claimed that the present situation in Syria was different from what it was when the statement (Geneva 1) was issued, where the global jihadist organizations were not present in Syria; requesting the statement to be voided, or at least interpreted according to what reality imposed, namely prioritising counter-terrorism on any other political or security items, and stressed the need to compel the opposition to cooperate with the regime in order to eliminate these terrorist organizations before any political solution.
In January 2015, Moscow began additional steps to divert attention from (the Geneva 1 statement) which was approved by the Syrian opposition and the international community; also continued its efforts to disseminate the opposition and relate them to entities which they had no relation to whatsoever, in order to dismantle and weaken it; so Russia called for a conference (or a forum) in Moscow. But all the major opposition parties decided to boycott in protest to Russia’s intentions on the one hand, and their lack of trust in Russia on the other, especially as they were a player in the war and could not be a mediator. Moscow was only able to group some uninfluential Syrian opposition, and some of those who claimed to be ones, as well as a delegation representing the regime. The so-called “Moscow principles” were released as a result, which included ten points, all of which were compatible with the proposals of the regime and Russia, and did not promise any reform or political change or participation of the opposition, and it was clear that the purpose of the whole thing was to marginalize Geneva 1 statement, and therefore it was rejected by all opposition forces, political and military, and was only approved by the regime because it satisfied its needs.
In the same track of marginalizing (Geneva 1), the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in August 2015, presented a new peace plan based on the creation of four working groups focused on security and protection and the fight against terrorism, political and constitutional issues as well as reconstruction, and the “launch of a Syrian-led political process “, a term which the regime was always repeating. It was clear that the Russians were eager to pass this plan, which contrasted completely with Geneva’s statement calling for the formation of a single body, but the United States introduced amendments to this plan, including the formation of a transitional leadership body with full executive powers, which was the essence of the Geneva 1 statement, prompting the UN Security Council to endorse it. Russia’s enthusiasm subsided then, and they clogged the plan, and none of its terms were implemented.
Again, another meeting took place, including the United States, Russia, China and the European Union, France, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Jordan and the UAE, in October 2015, nearly two months after the issuance of the UN plan, and the meeting ended with a new understanding focused on the unity of Syria and its secular characteristics, the protection of state institutions, the fight against terrorism, and called for the continuation of the negotiations between the regime and the opposition, according to the text of the Geneva 1 statement of the year 2012, to establish a “ruling body, credible and all-inclusive and non-sectarian.” This meeting was conducted by European, American and Gulf efforts.
A month after the Vienna 1 meeting, representatives of 20 governments and organizations met in Vienna too, and agreed to start the political process on Syria; the most important thing happening at this meeting was that it established a timetable for political change in Syria (the formation of a transitional government within six months, and elections in eighteen months).
To install this schedule, the group rushed to hold a meeting in the Security Council, two months after the Vienna 2, where the Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the roadmap that was negotiated in Vienna. The United States said that the decision was a message to all parties involved that the time has come to stop the killings in Syria. Well, none of this did happen either, the violence and killings did not stop, and the transitional government was not formed within 6 months, and there was no prospect or hope to hold elections within eighteen months.
None of these initiatives, and other sub-initiatives, have led to any significant result, on the contrary, the severity of local regional and international disputes and the magnitude of the tragedy increased , the intensity of war and violence rocketed, all was the result of a conflict of interest of the influential countries in the Syrian situation, and the insistence of Russia and Iran to support the regime, without limitation, politically and militarily, and the insistence of Russia and the United States on wasting time and procrastination, with each party regarding the Syrian arena as a battle in which they could solve their pending problems with other countries, all led to the production of lame initiatives, with unserious and incomplete elements.
The initiating states, or those supervising and sponsoring them, have ignored the key issues, sometimes deliberately, and unknowingly other times. All the countries that participated in the development of these initiatives or facilitated the issuance to the public, already knew that they wouldn’t succeed. Russia and the United States were mainly seeking to gain time. Each side believed that the extra time would guarantee further gains, and would put pressure on the other party/parties on the ground or in other cases that had nothing to do with Syria.
The level of complexity the Syrian case has reached is exceptional, as Syria has turned into a theatre for other countries disputes; at the same time the regime was ready to destroy Syria and kill and displace half of its people (that’s what happened so far) in order to continue its authoritarian and corrupt rule, and was ready to sell its decision and political sovereignty to Iran or Russia or even Israel if they enabled it; while Russia was ready to burn all of Syria to claim back its influence as an international pole primarily against the United States, bartering the destruction of Syria with other files in Europe and its neighbourhood. As for Iran, who under the sectarian and ethnic cover, is seeking to impose a Persian nationalist dream of retrieving an extinct empire, using all extremist sectarian groups that it sponsors in an immoral war to do it; and Turkey has key objectives in the return of its regional power and protecting its borders and burying the Kurdish dream in and around; as for Israel, it is the big winner of the regime’s war which destroyed Syria as a resilient country, and even wiped out the possibility of bringing it back in the foreseeable future, to regain its role. All of this is compatible with the whole aspiration of Americans to achieve all the White House strategies without losing one drop of American blood; with Gulf Arab states seeking to curb Iran’s octopus expansion, considering the Syrian arena as the most dangerous arena used by Iran as an anchor for its expansion, apart from the overlapping multifaceted economic interests and goals of all the parties previously mentioned, who are seeking to achieve through this war.
So, all the overlapping and interrelated set of interests and objectives and strategies, regional and international, have led to the complexity of the situation in Syria, resulting in the sabotage of all the initiatives, and the disablement and the postponement of the solution, with each party hopping to achieve on the ground, by force and arms, those goals or some parts of them at least.
Technically, all initiatives warned of the negative impact of terrorism and extremist thinking, and destabilizing the region and its surroundings, attracting terrorists to fight in Syria, and the physical destruction of the country, the growing sectarianism, and the seriousness of the absence of a political solution; and emphasized the need to protect civilians, and members of national and religious and sectarian minorities, and the importance of an inclusive political process led by Syria within the scope of fully implementing the statement of the Geneva 1, participation of women, and commitment to the unity of Syria, independence and territorial integrity, and non-sectarian, and to ensure the continued functioning of government institutions, and the protection of the rights of Syrian people, regardless of race or religious affiliation and to ensure humanitarian access throughout the country; but, in contrast, it did not include any clear binding and temporal mechanism to implement, and it did put everyone in one basket, the offender and the victim, and did not include the imposition of sanctions on those who block its enforcement or impede the course, and a majority of its clauses remained open to interpretation, carrying the meaning and its opposite, and left the door open, so that each party could interpreted according to its interests, goals and intentions.
The results of the initiatives are none existent, and many Syrians described them as futile, for lack of seriousness, and ignoring fundamental issues that no initiative could succeed without, strongly criticized them, and criticized their authors. Perhaps the most important criticism of those that indicated that they dealt with the regime in good faith, and assumed there was a possibility for its commitment to its promises, and marginalized the Syrian armed opposition forces and lacked enforcement mechanisms and clear explicit and detailed timetables, and to being kept vague and subject to interpretation, and to its lack of a binding force, and the lack of penalty on those who do not adhere, and not resorting to Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and turning a blind eye on selective justice, and deliberately not referring to the killers, sometimes equating the victim with the criminal.
It is clear that there is no uniform international will to resolve the Syrian tragedy, and that the split among all local, Arab, regional and international parties concerned with the Syrian file, is wide and clear, and increasingly wider and deeper; as well as the indifference of the Americans, and the exceptional Arab weakness, and the regional and international disability; in addition to weakness suffered by the Syrian opposition, lack of experience, confusion and division, and the absence of political vision, preventing them from influencing the incidents and international resolutions and initiatives; as well as the unparalleled violence and repression of the Syrian regime, and the intransigence and corruption and decay of the national sentiment, and its transformation into a killing machine, with its insistence on a military solution in a way that is preventing it from seriously thinking about helping to implement any of the initiatives to save Syria and its people.
Within the current visual positions, of Russia, Iran and the United States, it is difficult to predict the issuance of any implementable initiatives that can end the war and the Syrian tragedy. It seems that, before looking to any new initiative, it is important to work on putting an end to the global cross-border terrorism, and restore the keys of the Syrian decision, political and military, from Iran, Russia, and relieving Syria from being the battle ground for other nation’s wars. All of this is the beginning for a resolution. There is no doubt that it is complex and very difficult if effective pressure is not excised, by European and regional, Arab and local powers, to help bringing about a qualitative difference in the American position essentially.