Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Go to Geneva, talk to Assad

Geneva is a battleground, too

SNC opposition figures and French foreign minister meet in Geneva.

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

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius meets with opposition figures from the SNC before international talks in Geneva on Syria’s conflict. (AFP photo/ Mehdi Fedouach)

“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.”

  • Beiruti

    The invitation for the "Syrian Opposition" to come to Geneva is an invitation into the Brier Patch. The Syrian Opposition is fragmented, unorganized and not united on even its aims for opposing Assad. In short, it is a group that is not ready for Prime Time. Bringing this to Geneva under the bright lights of the international press would expose the Opposition for what it is right now and this can only bring favor upon Assad. The biggest enemy of the Syrian Opposition is not Assad, Russia, Iran or Hezbollah, it is not the salafists or the Nusra Front. Rather, it is the Syrian Opposition that is its own worst enemy. It suffers from the same chronic condition of many Middle Eastern organizations, too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Everyone wants to lead, no one wants to follow and this results in disunity of effort and dilution of purpose. Conversely, Assad's greatest ally is the disunity of his opposition. To the extent that Assad can play up this disunity, then this strengthens his position relative to the Opposition. Hence, the invitation to Geneva.

    October 30, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    1- This is tantamount to CAPITULATION because the primary goal of the so-called opposition is to depose Assad. By agreeing to meet with Assad, the opposition has lost the war of ideas (since it has none to begin with), no matter the convoluted arguments. 2- Your call for the opposition to go to Geneva implies that this entity is a unified body with clear goals and vision for the future of Syria. Sadly, and again despite the wishful thinking, at least half the "opposition" is radical Islamist terrorist fundamentalist Saudi Al-Qaeda types, etc. and will NEVER AGREE to go to Geneva because they may all be arrested as war criminals, just like Assad by the way. 3- You just can't help but poke a jab at America - you have been brainwashed by half a century of Baathist indoctrination - every Syrian student transcript includes a course every semester of their schooling lives in "Socialist Nationalist Education (a.k.a. Baath Nazi propaganda). So you just can't help it to label President Obama an "amateur president" because he did not rush to your rescue, you, who are and will always be, America's and the West's eternal enemies and haters because of what they stand for. You want America to fall in your trap, to send its sons and daughters die for you, you who are the future dictators and butchers who will inevitably replace Assad and convert one tyranny (An Alawi one) into another (a Sunni one). 4- Eat your hearts out. President Obama is the smartest US president that America has produced in decades, and he will let you, the opposition, and Assad, bleed one another to death before sending you an intravenous line to assist you in your final hours. And good luck in Geneva I, II, III, and all the Genevas that are most likely to come. 5-I will just conclude with one thing: Keep your hands and your Baathist Arabist Islamist garbage out of Lebanon. Your filth is ruining Lebanon, just it has ruined Lebanon.

    October 30, 2013