John Kerry, Geneva II, and the Syria Talks Problem

Too many problems overshadow Sec. Kerry's efforts for peace talks on Syria. Photo: John Kerry (AP)

NEW YORK, October 24, 2013 — Syria, a beautiful part of God’s earth, and home of some of the West’s most sacred roots is now an ugly thing.  Its long running civil war has claimed the lives of over 100,000 Syrians, has created millions of refugees, and has ravished treasure never to be part of our heritage again. 

Foreign Policy reports today that Secretary of State John Kerry and senior members of the US State department are split on whether or not to pursue what has come to be dubbed Geneva II, namely high profile talks between Syria’s main opposition groups and government officials from the Assad regime, scheduled for next month

The issue?  Will anyone show up?  FP reports in a quote today, “ ‘The only person who wants the Geneva conference to happen is the secretary,” a senior U.S. official told FP. ‘Who’s going to show up? Will they actually represent anyone? If not, why take the risk?’”

What gives the naysayers the sense that no one will come to Secretary Kerry’s let’s get along party, is primarily the growing number of key Syrian opposition leaders who say they won’t attend the conference unless Assad promises to transfer power to a transitional government and then step aside.

Does this sound like a good start to negotiations in good faith?  Imagine President Assad, “Oh, that’s all? Sure why didn’t you say that 100,000 lives ago. Sure I’ll come.”  The posture of the Syrian opposition leaders is precisely the stance took by President Obama during the recent US government shutdown.  Pure obstruction in the guise of extreme and meaningless pre-conditions, the very opposite of negotiation in good faith.

Secretary Kerry’s hopefulness and determination to keep talks on track is admirable. Hope, longing, and sacrificial devotion for the sake of peace and reconciliation is always to be honored and respected.  The point of worry however is the subtle calculus of it all.  One must always taking great care to prevent noble aspirations from setting back hoped for results due to missteps as a mediator. As the Syria tragedy is such an enduring and heart-wrenching assault on our humanity, our fellow families in Syria, it wouldn’t hurt to pray for those trying to unravel the conflict and begin repair.

But there are many problems with the proposed talks that bear closer watch than blinkered perspectives at play in the clash between Kerry and other State Department leaders. First, there are no good guys anywhere on the scene at all.  Major world and regional powers have exploited local conflict for greed, supremacy, and ideological gain.  This stench-ridden appendage of world players who have profited from the shed blood of innocents for the sake of base self interest are suddenly shelved and removed from the equation.  Shameless corporations and governments manipulate affairs, and reap profits from wars until they get out of control, and then suddenly the aperture magically narrows to bring local combatants to the table, as though “rebels” and the “Government of Assad,” are the whole problem?  This untruth in fact is a fundamental contaminant of the process Mr. Kerry pushes, Geneva II.

Problem two, is the evident blind eye turned by anyone using the term “the rebels” as though there is any one such thing, and that one could reliably count on this violent cacophony to produce negotiators that are truly representative.  Everyone knows that Syria is Jihad-central for every ideologically misguided, violent criminal miscreant from Tunisia to Iran.  An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 foreign fighters have come to Syria since the outbreak of the uprising in March 2011.  Syrian Free Army leaders are being beheaded by anti-Assad Al-Qaeda, anti-Assad rebels are killing anti-Assad Al-Qaeda, and Al-Qaeda are killing innocent Syrian civilians

Al-Qaeda attacked the city of Hama, ignited dozens of cars and sent up a column of smoke visible for miles around. One activist said the secondary explosions of bursting gas tanks had continued long after the initial blast.

Anyone who’s ever mediated and negotiated resolutions knows that it is impossible to realize sound outcomes from asymmetric dialogue between a unified entity on one side, and a non-entity that only bears a name at all due to the laziness of the media.

Problem three is that political and military elements make up only a small part of any clash, and this narrow cesspool of self interest  (governments and military) is one of the worst bases from which to negotiate genuine reconciliation and the resolution of conflict.  Unfortunately this narrow field is the only community Mr. Kerry represents.  Governments operate in a lonely hubris of imagining themselves to be the sole arbiter of life in the world, when in fact their roles and responsibilities should be understood as enormously constrained, and in fact unrelated to vast swaths of the human experience, including human family relations, religious and spiritual commitments, personal histories, dreams, and aspirations, culture and our shared treasures of matter and meaning.  Governments have no affinity or innate orientation for any such things, and cannot and should not be expected to speak to them.  They don’t urge peace, at best they urge compromise, and usually Faustian compromise at that.

The government has proven itself very capable of relating to non-government entities for bad, greedy, and selfish purposes, as seen in the evil revolving door of money and politics.  So why can’t government show itself to be capable of relating to non-government entities for good purposes, like bringing about peace and reconciliation for example.  Kerry and the US should engage, incorporate, and support the many many track 2 initiatives for peace desperately carried out by people and institutions, in ways governments (e.g., the US State department) simply could never do. 

Should Secretary Kerry push for Geneva II to happen next month?  No.  The conditions are not there.  Should Secretary Kerry push just as hard for significant peace efforts to continue with support and resources full steam ahead?  Yes.  The 10s of peace seeking initiatives, including those actually capable of making headway on the “rebel representative” problem should be sought and engaged, and the desperate and urgent need to end the horrors in Syria should occupy genuine focus, attention, and resources of John Kerry, and of us all. 


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Frank Kaufmann

Frank Kaufmann is Editor in Chief of New World Encyclopedia (a values based, general knowledge encyclopedia), executive director of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace (an international, interreligious peace organization), founder and president of Values in Knowledge Foundation (a movement to to meet the challenges and undo the harm caused by declining content in the world of  knowledge and information).

Frank Kaufmann's work for peace includes efforts in over 65 countries with successes in conflict ridden and violent environments.

This mission to produce and maintain New World Encyclopedia involves supporting a virtual academy of over 500 international scholars as contributors. 

 

 

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