Getting Syria-ous About Peace Talks

Exclusive: President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval before attacking Syria may represent a needed breather, slowing Official Washington’s stampede into another war, but the only way to stop the bloodshed is to get the various sides into peace talks – and it is the U.S.-supported rebels who won’t go, notes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

President Barack Obama has postponed a U.S. military strike against Syria so Congress can debate the issue and vote on a use-of-force resolution, a potential cooling-off period in the rush to war. But the larger problem remains unaddressed, the need to push the Syrian rebels into peace talks.

Though many Americans may believe – from absorbing the mainstream U.S. news – that it is Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad who needs to be pressured to the negotiating table, the reality is that Assad has repeatedly offered to join peace talks in Geneva. It is “our” opposition that has refused to go.

President Barack Obama meets in the Situation Room with his national security advisors to discuss strategy in Syria, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The rebel leaders have offered up a host of excuses: they want the U.S. government to provide sophisticated weapons first; they want all Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to withdraw; they want to be in a winning position before talks begin; they want Assad to agree to resign as a precondition of talks.

In other words, the fractious rebels, whose most effective fighters are allied with al-Qaeda, don’t want peace talks; they’d rather wait for the United States and other outside powers to be drawn into the civil war and ensure Assad’s ouster, an outcome that also could make Syria the new hotbed for terrorism in the Middle East.

Some rebels are already complaining that Obama shouldn’t delay the missile strikes against Assad’s military – as punishment for its alleged use of chemical weapons – and that the United States should dramatically expand the planned attacks. These rebels want a sustained U.S. military campaign to break the back of Assad’s government.

From the rebels’ point of view, therefore, it makes sense to continue their boycott of the peace talks, hoping that the continued carnage in Syria will eventually provoke the West to intervene more forcefully as occurred in Libya when NATO airpower tipped the balance of the civil war in favor of Islamist-dominated rebels and doomed secular dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

However, if the real goal of U.S. foreign policy is to prevent future slaughters of Syrian children and other innocents – whether by chemical or more traditional weapons – the only answer is to hammer out some new power-sharing arrangements inside Syria through negotiations.

Even if peace talks might not immediately resolve the conflict, they would at least test how serious Assad is about making meaningful concessions to his opponents. That, in turn, could give the Obama administration more leverage with Russia, if Assad proves to be inflexible. Russia might tire of its support of the long-running Assad dynasty.

Indeed, it’s hard to see a downside for Washington from negotiations unless it’s the fear that the rebels will reveal themselves to be essentially a front for al-Qaeda, with the more palatable political leaders exposed as empty suits with no real authority. Still, it might be better for the West to know that now rather than later.

Obama at a Crossroads

Yet, as President Obama stands poised at a crossroads of what would – even with congressional approval – amount to a unilateral U.S. attack on Syria in violation of international law, his other option is to demand that all sides in the civil war make a concerted effort to negotiate a cease-fire and a new power-sharing structure.

That would require the Obama administration to read the Riot Act not only to the Syrian rebels but to their patrons and sympathizers in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states and, to a degree, Israel.

Rather than let the Syrian rebels act like the tail wagging the American dog, Obama would have to make clear to them that their continued obstruction of peace talks is unacceptable. He could tell the rebels and their patrons that there will be no U.S. involvement unless he sees a good-faith effort from the rebels for peace.

Instead, there’s the spectacle of Secretary of State John Kerry pleading with the rebels for their understanding after Obama’s decision to hold off on missile strikes pending congressional approval. According to the New York Times, Kerry called Ahmed al-Jarba, the president of the Syrian opposition, to explain Obama’s postponement. Kerry also consulted with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, State Department officials told the Times.

Jarba is the same man who blocked the most recent initiative for peace talks in July, laying down new obstacles to negotiations. On July 31, Ben Hubbard of the New York Times reported that “the new conditions, made by [Jarba] reflected a significant hardening of his position. He said that the opposition would not negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad or ‘his clique’ and that talks could begin only when the military situation in Syria was positive for rebel forces.”

After Obama’s announcement of the missile-strike postponement on Saturday, some Syrian rebels openly complained about the delay as well as his insistence that the attacks be “limited, tailored” to punish Assad’s government for allegedly using chemical weapons but not be so expansive that they enmesh the United States in another war.

The Times reported on Sunday that “Obama’s change in direction left some opposition officials disillusioned. Some rebel officials said that the president’s continued insistence that any strike would be limited in duration and scope had prompted worries that if an attack eventually came, it would not deliver a powerful enough blow to the Syrian government’s forces.”

The Times quoted Maj. Isam Rayes, an official who works for the Supreme Military Council, the armed wing of the opposition, as saying: “I think that it will not be strong enough.”

Supplicant or Superpower?

Yet, what is an American to make of the U.S. Secretary of State, in effect, apologizing to Syrian rebels and Saudi officials for not rushing into an act of war against a country that poses no threat to the United States, especially when the Syrian rebels and the Saudis refuse to take even a tentative step toward peace.

Who is the superpower here? Who is giving the orders? Are the Saudis and their new-found allies, the Israelis, demanding that the United States intervene militarily in what is shaping up as a regional power struggle between the Saudi-Israeli coalition and Iran and its Shiite allies, including Assad’s regime?

The behind-the-scenes roles of the sophisticated intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia and Israel also might demand a more careful examination of the evidence regarding the alleged Aug. 21 chemical attacks in the Damascus suburbs which provoked the threatened U.S. military strike.

Given the powerful interests seeking to pull the United States into the war, the possibility of a “black op” cannot be dismissed out of hand. Though the Obama administration insists that the evidence implicating Assad’s military is clear, not a single piece of hard evidence has been made public and much of the still-secret case may come from Israeli intelligence sources.

Still, the most obvious point is that as long as the Syrian civil war drags on, there is an inevitability of more civilian deaths, including some from the expected American strike. There is also the prospect for a widening conflict that could include retaliatory attacks against U.S. and Israeli targets.

In other words, the killing could easily spin out of control, much as happened because of the Iraq War and other past U.S. military interventions in the Middle East. The only way to avert this catastrophe would be to initiate peace talks, starting with a cease-fire and leading to a new power-sharing arrangement inside Syria.

But that will require the Obama administration thinking less about missile strikes and more about how to compel the Syrian rebels to send a negotiating team to Geneva.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Share this Article:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • NewsVine
  • Technorati
  • email

16 comments on “Getting Syria-ous About Peace Talks

  1. Antonio Cafoncelli on said:

    Excellent analysis Robert. It is very honest and devoid of the great hypocrisy we see these days in our administration officials that have to beg the Saudis, Israelis and the Alqueda rebels to see if they are pleased with the new decision and very wise move of our President to postpone any military action. It is humiliating that the most powerful country on earth has to resign its independence in foreign policy and accept the terms of Saudis- Israelis axis, also supported by our neocons and belligerent congressmen that are pushing the President to do more damage to the Syrian people with a military intervention that will benefit greatly jihadist terrorists.

  2. It looks as if Obama is finally, painfully, aware that his place among the presidents is going to be rather low. I am predicting 30 plus or minus 5. By comparison, GWB is ranked 36. There are 6 presidents ranked worse than Bush. Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan: the 3 leading up to Lincoln & Andrew Johnson, right after Lincoln: that is 4 of the six.Harding is one of the 6. Obama is safely reelected and is now contemplating his place in history and it is not an appealing vision. Some bloggers have made the observation, or drawn the conclusion, that Obama is looking for something to give his legacy a favorable spin. He did inherit both wars so his detractors can always say that Obama was never man-enough to start his own war. Others say he is looking for a way to distract the viewers from the controversy about the NSA. Perhaps Syria is where Obama wants to make his mark as a serious man: a man to be reckoned with.

  3. F. G. Sanford on said:

    “The behind-the-scenes roles of the sophisticated intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia and Israel also might demand a more careful examination of the evidence regarding the alleged Aug. 21 chemical attacks in the Damascus suburbs which provoked the threatened U.S. military strike.”

    Mr. Parry is far too gentlemanly and diplomatic. I would have said, “If it looks like BS, smells like BS and you found it in the barnyard…

    Gee Whiz! Collusion between Saudi and Israeli intelligence services? Where has THAT suspicion ever been raised before? Could it be that the fog is beginning to lift?

  4. Morton Kurzweil on said:

    “The only way to stop the bloodshed is to get the various sides into peace talks.”
    And when was the last time that happened?
    Victors drag the defeated to submission ceremonies. There is never a peace talk that settles a moral or religious an ethnic issue or commits a tiger or a fox to surrender its genetic makeup. The only change comes from the reality of national satisfaction of trust and service of the government to the people. If the people are corrupt and bigoted, they will serve a corrupt and bigoted government. If they desire peace and equality with others, they will resist the bigotry of a bigoted regime.
    There was a time when America was a magnet for equality and freedom. We didn’t have to advertise what ‘made in America’ meant. Now we try to sell a Christian ethic, a racial bigotry, and the rights of business citizens to the world as the new American Empire. Obama is without honor or respect among those who prefer empire building to the true conservative ethic of the Constitution BCC, before Christ and the Courts redefined liberty and justice for all.

  5. Michael\\ on said:

    Do you imagine a peace in Syria can be negotiated between anything other than the principal warring parties? Would you have your terrorist contractors, bagmen, oilmen, gunrunners and mercenaries represent the USA in negotiations with the still standing sovereign and legitimate national government of Syria? How long will the USA pretend that the rebel forces are anything other than hired CIA, Mossad and GCC terrorist scum? Though the USA won’t negotiate with terrorists, would it now allow itself to be represented by terrorists and psychopaths in negotiations with Syria? Michael\\

  6. rosemerry on said:

    I am reminded of Bill Clinton’s comment when Netanyahu ordered him about: “Who is the f****** superpower here???”

  7. I. L. Swindle on said:

    “But that will require the Obama administration thinking less about missile strikes and more about how to compel the Syrian rebels to send a negotiating team to Geneva.”
    ——–
    But, did not OBAMA/CIA create/finance/supply the “rebels” in the first place? If so, dragging them to Geneva would be poppycock, wouldn’t it?

  8. incontinent reader on said:

    Great article, Bob.

  9. Fred Taylor on said:

    Bob, helpful article. Good to hear a positive course of action laid out. The issue is prevention not punishment. Fred Taylor

  10. Bill Jones on said:

    “Exclusive: President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval before attacking Syria may represent a needed breather”

    Nah, Barry’s just looking for someone to share the blame.

  11. How the “US-supported rebels” can refuse the orders of their Masters?

    The real problem is, as Putin said on several occasions that the Syrian problem couldn’t be resolved without Iran being at the negotiation table. This something, the powerful Jewish Lobby would never allow to happen especially under Barack Obama administration and the Congress which is over-loaded by the Israel-Firsters.

    In a letter to John Kerry, American Catholic Bishops and European Catholic leaders have warned that a US-led military attack on Syria would lead to an escalation of hostilities.

    The letter, signed by the committee chairman, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, called on the US to work with other governments to pursue negotiations and a cease-fire.

    Francis I, the Kosher Pope, during a meeting with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, also rejected Barack Obama’s bullying Bashar al-Assad.

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/09/01/catholic-church-leaders-against-attack-on-syria/

  12. Dirty Dawg on said:

    Completely agree that Obama’s ‘decision’ to take this to Congress buys us some time…but having more time means nothing if its not used to positive effect. I honestly don’t believe that the President wants to use military force if the outcome of ensuring that chemical weapons won’t be used again…plus, I think he probably is, at least, somewhat skeptical about who used the weapons and how and why. The time also opens up the UN inspector’s report. The last thing we need is military strikes on faulty evidence. Hammer out a peace agreement…get the damned UN to do something to garner international support, even if it means a Russian veto, at least it will provide a statement about the rest of the world.

  13. MadBeck on said:

    The United States problem is one of credibility. You cannot support the Israelis in whatever they do, no matter how horrendous their war crimes. You can’t back the Saudis unquestioningly, when their Wahhabi mindset is a big part of the problem. You can’t supply the Egyptian army while they massacre their own people. And most importantly, you cannot ignore and demonize the Iranians, when they live in the same neighborhood as the above-mentioned zealots and are, as a matter of fact, a sovereign nation. Credibility, people.

  14. I hope you’re looking into it, Bob. Although many Americans believe what they read in the mainstream news, astonishingly large numbers don’t, and they are hungry for serious investigative reporting.

    The timing of the August 21 chemical weapons attack and U.S. response seems way too convenient to be coincidental. Ghassan Hitto said in a July 12 interview with the GlobalPost that he’d met with McCain and told him the rebels wanted a no-fly zone, surface-to-air missiles, and surgical strikes on Syrian military targets. He didn’t say when they met, but presumably it was sometime between his election in March and July 8, when he was forced to quit. In the interview, he makes a veiled comment about his resignation ensuring that aid would continue to flow into Syria. On July 6, the coalition elected Jarba, the Saudis’ man, as president. Less than two weeks later, Bandar arranged for a delegation headed by Jarba to meet with Saudi rulers. As a result of that meeting, according to another report, they were waiting for the Saudis to increase their arms tenfold. The chemical weapons attack came a month later.

    The whole thing smells like a set-up. It was Bandar’s agency that tried to convince the United States in the first place that Assad was using chemical weapons. If Bandar is now best buds with Mossad, there’s no telling how black their ops could be.

  15. johnnybeogudde on said:

    It is a great article. It’s good that knee-jerk reactions aren’t followed. The proof of source has not been made public re. chem attacks. Such secrecy must be broken. 50Million died making Geneva Conventions LAW and laws on chemical weapons uses began in WWI. A planet of hand-wringers begs to be overwhelmed. Weapons attacks on one’s own civilians is obviously a call to the planet to be dealt with. The source of the attacks, political black ops to garner support OR Assad, HAS 2B ANSWERED publicly, not in secret. Until that is done…

  16. abraham on said:

    The United States problem is one of credibility. You cannot support the Israelis in whatever they do, no matter how horrendous their war crimes. You can’t back the Saudis unquestioningly, when their Wahhabi mindset is a big part of the problem. You can’t supply the Egyptian army while they massacre their own people. And most importantly, you cannot ignore and demonize the Iranians, when they live in the same neighborhood as the above-mentioned zealots and are, as a matter of fact, a sovereign nation. Credibility, people.