The Syrian opposition should know that the road to beating Bashar al-Assad is not a direct one, and progress does not only happen on the battlefield. At times like these, when a stalemate persists at an unbearably high human cost, the opposition should consolidate its gains and try diplomacy as another way of bruising Assad and forcing him out of power. For the opposition, going to Geneva, unconditionally, is imperative.
Over the past two years, Assad has skillfully transformed one of the world's most peaceful uprisings into a bloody civil war. By doing so, he switched the narrative from one about ending his autocracy into one about sectarian feuds and regional handwringing.
By now, Assad is hardly the only person with blood on his hands. He tops a list of tens of thousands of Syrian and Lebanese criminals, which makes bringing all of them to justice near-impossible.
Also impossible is meeting the oppositions's requirement of finding anyone on Assad's side with no blood on their hands to attend compromise conferences. If such people exist, they'd be too marginal to concede power or to decide on anything.
This makes talking to Assad, or whoever he designates, inevitable for reaching a compromise, as negotiated by the UN, the US, and Russia in Geneva I, to stipulate the transfer of all executive power from Assad to an interim government.
While the devil is in the details, Geneva I can only mean that Assad gives up power. Whether Assad, or any from his close circle, will play any future role is debatable. What is not debatable, per Geneva I, is that Assad will cease being chief executive, or president. That's a precondition already set for Geneva II, and that's as good as it can get for the opposition.
The opposition should go to Geneva II, and if Assad shows up in person to hand over power, even better. Because of America's war hangover, its amateur president, and his inexperienced foreign policy team, the choices before the Syrian opposition are all bad ones. But a savvy opposition should make the best out of the hand it is dealt.
While not ideal, Geneva favors the opposition. Under Russian pressure, Assad endorsed it only because he knew that the fragmented opposition will never manage to form a united coalition against him to attend. In the eyes of the world, Assad has emerged as the party who seeks a peaceful solution, while the opposition has been blamed for delaying Geneva II. Just ask Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzia Afkham, who also agrees that the Syrian opposition should unite.
Now imagine that the opposition announces that it is going to Geneva. Imagine also that the opposition says it does not mind even if Assad personally showed up at the conference, and if his friends and allies in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon are invited too. The bigger the number of Geneva attendees, the more official it becomes that Assad should transfer power, including his command of security forces.
When Assad and Iran talk to the “Zionist agents” they have been fighting for over a year, the narrative will certainly change. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah will have to explain to his supporters how their war in Syria was about Assad’s share in power rather than fighting Israel and radical Islamists.
The Syrian opposition, for its part, will be under no such pressure. It can tell its supporters that its goal has always been replacing Assad. If the goal is achieved with more talking and less killing, then so much the better.
Now it is clear why, despite the honeymoon between Washington and Tehran, the Iranians have turned down invitations to attend Geneva, despite their talk about the need for Syrian political dialogue. If Iran sticks to this position, let it explain to Moscow that its conditions for attending would be the scrapping of Geneva I.
The Syrian opposition should understand diplomacy. This includes turning Geneva against those who pay it lip service. Let the opposition go to Geneva without conditions, and let Russia, Assad, and Iran figure out who attends and on what basis.
The Syrian opposition should also prop up the various General Assembly resolutions that suspended the membership of the Assad government and bestowed legitimacy on the Syrian National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "effective representative interlocutors needed for a political transition."
If the Syrian opposition plans to win its fight against Assad, it should choose its battles. The General Assembly has clearly favored the opposition with more than 100 supportive member states to Assad's one dozen. That's why Russia has tried to mute the General Assembly and channel diplomacy through the Security Council, where numbers don't matter.
Diplomacy has been in the opposition's favor, in every venue except the Security Council. Using diplomacy in Geneva to outmaneuver Assad is not surrender, but rather another means for a similar end.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain