Hollow rhetoric

A picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 8, 2013, shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on May 7, 2013 in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Salehi held talks with Syrian President and said it was time to dissuade Israel from carrying out attacks such as its air strikes on Syria over the past week. AFP PHOTO / SANA

The U.S. again revealed its hazy and confused position on the Syrian crisis Thursday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ostensibly saying that President Bashar Assad should leave power: However, a closer inspection of his words reveals he said no such thing.

In remarks in Rome, following the U.S.-Russian détente, Kerry said that “in our judgment President Assad will not be a component of that transitional government.” But this makes no mention of what will come next, and does not rule out Assad standing for president again in the future.

This vague language typifies the Geneva agreement in general, the ambiguity of which has allowed both sides of this horrendous conflict to cherry-pick different elements from it.

This new position of the U.S. is basically what Russia has been saying all along – that talks between the opposition and the regime should take place, but that Assad should not be excluded from the political system entirely. So with these latest remarks we have little more than another chapter in an epic tale of procrastination.

What do these words even mean? There are countless examples from history and from the present that show what America wants, it does not necessarily get. After 54 years, has it managed to dethrone the Castro family in Cuba? Or the Kims in North Korea? Wishing for something doesn’t make it happen.

This new accord between the U.S. and Russia also reveals what was suspected all along: Both superpowers are quite content to see the status quo continue in Syria, as they know it will eventually lead to strategic changes in the country, changes that will see Israel no longer having to fear its Syrian neighbor, as the population will be too distracted with fighting each other to be concerned with any external threat.

When the prospect of talks was first mooted, all that time ago now, some 10,000 Syrians had died. Now that figure is likely 10 times higher, years have passed, and nothing has changed. For all the conference halls that have been filled, all the meetings that have taken place, nothing has improved for the people of Syria. In fact it has gotten worse, on every level.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated, the infrastructure of the country is crumbling, and the growing refugee population has less to live on, and less to ever call home.

The red lines that the U.S. has spoken of have shown to be rosy at best. They have revealed themselves to be completely malleable, to suit the rhetoric of the day and serve only to divert international attention from the real horrors on the ground.

Now, too, that the Syrian government has said it supports the idea of talks, there is no way that the opposition can happily do the same. To give up on their revolution, and to sit next to their enemies, with nothing to show, would make a mockery of these last two years, and these tens of thousands of deaths.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 10, 2013, on page 7.




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