Reacting to the latest violence throughout Syria on Monday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Washington is “not hopeful” that Tuesday would see a cessation of hostilities. But any such hope was naïve to begin with.
Among the things the past year has taught us is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a master of diversion. He is well-practiced at navigating the loopholes in international and domestic law, and acutely aware of the opportunities presented by repetitive non-binding statements. Unbacked by action, diplomacy has only ever provided cover and additional time for Assad to pursue his brutal goals. In that way, as long as the Security Council refuses to make a credible promise of force—endorsing and enforcing a strict deadline for a ceasefire—its efforts are unlikely to result in peace in Syria.
Bashar’s legacy leaves little reason to believe that diplomacy is a promising way to deal with him. Consider, for example, his relations with Turkey. Since taking office, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has endorsed a policy of “no problems with neighbors,” which meant he has earnestly pursued engagement with even the likes of Bashar al-Assad.
That is why much of the international community had high hopes that Ankara would be able to persuade Damascus to solve its crisis through reform. But the previously friendly relations between the Turkish minister and the Syrian president have had little practical effect over the course of the crisis.
The many requests and pleas made by Erdogan and his envoys over the past year have fallen on deaf ears. To be sure, Assad has tried to appease his neighbors by promising that his regime will pursue political reform—but he did not ever interrupt the Syrian army’s tank assaults on protesters. It is to his credit that Erdogan eventually saw through this charade. As the Syrian massacre continued, the Turkish president finally renounced his policy of engagement, and declared Assad to be an outright dictator.
Just as Assad boldly made promises he knew he would never keep in Ankara, he has done the same with the Arab League. In November, the Syrian government agreed to a peace deal brokered by the League. Two days after pledging to end the violence, the regime opened fire on protesters. The Syrian army also continued its assaults in the presence of a mission of observers from the Arab League. Yet another link was added to Bashar al-Assad’s chain of bold-faced lies.
Radwan Ziadeh is a spokesperson for the Syrian National Council and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.