APRIL 4, 2016
Without minimizing for a moment those things dividing Washington and Moscow over Syria, there is at least agreement in principle on three fundamental points: all-Syrian peace negotiations in Geneva should focus on United Nations-mandated political transition leading to democracy and pluralism; that a “cessation of hostilities” in western Syria should boost these negotiations by suppressing violence; and that reduced mayhem should allow the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid to desperately needy Syrians as demanded by multiple Security Council resolutions. Yet none of this matters in the least to Bashar al-Assad. He rejects it all.
Assad rejects the very basis of peace negotiations: political transition guided by a transitional governing body negotiated by mutual consent and exercising full executive power. The fundamental terms of reference for the Geneva talks are found in the June 30, 2012 Final Communiqué of the Action Group on Syria (which featured the permanent five members of the UN Security Council). The most fundamental of those terms is political transition from the current state of affairs to a democratic and pluralistic Syria. Yet Bashar al-Assad—a person presiding over a family-based clique clinging to power through collective punishment and terror—cites the Syrian Constitution as taking priority over the expressed will of the international community. This murderous regime taking refuge in a rule of law argument featuring a constitution honored exclusively in its breach gives new meaning to obscenity.
As for the “cessation of hostilities,” Assad correctly sees it as a threat to his family, his entourage, and a system that treats Syria as private property. The reason he has spent five years concentrating lethal force on civilians is because that which he fears more than anything is the growth of civil society and self-government in Syria. To stop the air and artillery attacks against schools, hospitals, bakeries, apartment blocks, and the like is to run the risk of empowered local governance taking root. Therefore he uses the recess in Geneva talks to resume mass casualty atrocities in the Damascus suburbs. He does so with impunity, knowing that the West has protected not one single Syrian man, woman, or child from his attacks and believing that neither Moscow nor Tehran has any standing (if intention) to protest against mass murder.