The notion that the first round of Geneva 2 negotiations accomplished nothing and were worthless is a very common sentiment among supporters of the revolution. No one can fault Syrians for feeling this way after well over 130,000 of them have been slaughtered by the sarin-wielding hunger-using school-bombing doctor-murdering regime of Bashar al-Assad every single day for three years straight. The negotiations produced zero results in the way of saving precious lives: at least 1,900 were killed by the regime during these so-called peace talks, including the son of Christian opposition leader Fayez Sara who was tortured to death in a dungeon.
Regime diplomats lied, Syrians died.
Geneva 2’s failure to talk Assad out of power and the unrelenting bloodshed on the ground serve to mask a development critical to the future of the revolution: the shift in U.S. imperialism’s Syria policy from “hands off” to “hands on.”
Previously, U.S. policy towards the regime was passive and towards the opposition was negative — “no” was its watchword. No no-fly zone, no humanitarian corridor, no heavy weapons for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), no U.N. Security Council resolution invoking Chapter VII, no International Criminal Court referral for Assad or his inner circle.
The days of “no” are no more.
Since U.S. President Obama stumbled away from his own “red line” after the Ghouta gassacre (with the critical assistance of Russia), Secretary of State John Kerry has been conducting diplomacy at a furious pace to make up for lost time. The past three years of U.S. Syria policy were wasted, stuck on autopilot: passive policy pronouncements asserting “Assad must go” while saying “no” to everything that would help him go. This led to the following results:
- Syria’s revolutionary war expanding into Lebanon and Iraq in the form of sectarian strife.
- An unprecedented refugee crisis.
- Not one but two Al-Qaeda affiliates setting up shop in Syria.
- Last but not least, Saudi Arabia threatening to go off the reservation.
The autopilot approach crashed and burned on August 21, 2013 when Assad’s gassacre left Obama with no good options, options he was loathe to choose from. Since then, the U.S. has been much quicker to respond to developments on the ground in order to avoid being trapped again between a rock and a hard place. When the Islamic Front took over FSA general Salim Idris’s warehouse to prevent it from falling prey to a raid by Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the U.S. moved swiftly, cutting off non-lethal assistance within hours.
No longer asleep at the wheel, the U.S. is now an active player on the Syrian battlefield and in the diplomatic battlespace. Not only has non-lethal aid to rebel forces been restored, the U.S. Congress — where Obama sent his “red line” to die last fall — approved arms for rebel forces. The first shipments through Jordan arrived in southern Syria during the closing days of Geneva 2.
The U.S. message to the regime was simple: we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.
Geneva 2 was not only a crossroads for U.S. policy but also for the exiled opposition.
On the eve of the talks, opposition activists dropped a public relations bombshell — irrefutable photographic evidence of Holocaust-style industrial extermination of at least 11,000 Syrians — utterly demolishing the regime delegation’s plan to shift the political and diplomatic terrain to the topic of “fighting terrorism.” Worse yet, mainstream outlets ran articles detailing the regime’s complicity in Al-Qaeda’s rise, from releasing its adherents from prison in spring of 2011 to lucrative mutually beneficial oil deals with said terrorists. The international press that spent years pillorying the opposition for its ineptitude and fratricidal infighting focused its fire this time squarely at the regime and its bone-headed spokesmen who were utterly unequipped to handle being hammered by journalists they could not simply shoot and be done with.
For the first time in the revolution’s history, the opposition held the political and diplomatic high ground in addition to the moral high ground. For the first time in Syria’s history, the fascist regime acknowledged and legitimized opposition to its rule. For the first time in the regime’s history, it had to defend its murderous policies from the scrutiny of a free press. For the first time in the opposition’s history, it displayed the political maturity and unity necessary to function as a credible alternative to the regime.
If war is diplomacy by other means then diplomacy is war by other means and the opposition came out on top in the battle of Geneva 2. This diplomatic skirmish was never going to determine the outcome of the war to oust Assad but every victory brings that day closer just as every defeat pushes that day further into the future. Underscoring the connection between diplomatic and military struggle, between the exiles and the grassroots, FSA and Islamist brigades in southern Syria set up a joint operations room and dubbed their new offensive “The Geneva of Houran.” An FSA spokesman explained: “It is an expression of support for the Syrian opposition that is waging war against this tyrannical regime and is trying to convince the world that the regime does not understand the language of politics … It only understands the language of war.”
New weapons speaking the only language the regime understands.