In the wake of a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus last month, people in Syria and the rest of the world have been treated to a deafening crescendo of rhetoric that was supposedly laying the groundwork for a U.S.-led military strike on Syria.
But in the last week ago, another wave of rhetoric and public statements has focused on a different direction, namely a political solution to the Syrian crisis, to the degree that a state of confusion has been the result.
Officials from Syria, the United States and Russia have starred in this saga of dancing with words, ostensibly to deal with an event – a chemical attack on Aug. 21 – that is steadily receding into the distance.
Syrian officials have been engaged in their usual dose of schizophrenia, veering between vows to take on the entire world and solemn promises to cooperate in the effort to arrive at a political solution to the conflict. President Bashar Assad has been busy issuing the usual threats of “regional repercussions” if his regime is hit by a U.S.-led military strike. On Monday, his foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, was busy talking about the regime’s openness to “unconditional” negotiations on Syria’s political future, after more than two years in which Damascus did nothing other than set conditions, namely on who was qualified to sit on the other side of the table. As for Assad’s promise that the regime’s allies will come to its defense, all that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could do was pointedly distance his country from such a scenario.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been busy trotting out the latest stance by the White House after red lines were crossed, and firm decisions were supposedly made about the need to respond militarily to the Assad regime.
This time, Kerry is talking about a one-week deadline for Assad to hand over all of his country’s chemical weapons – how to verify such a massively important move is not mentioned. For Moscow and Damascus, the day’s message is a push for United Nations inspectors to return to Syria – how they will be useful, when they aren’t allowed to investigate who actually uses chemical weapons, is also not mentioned.
In short, the Syrians, Russians and Americans are behaving like parties that have backed themselves into a corner and are now searching desperately for a way out, and not a fair, durable solution to the Syrian tragedy.
In behaving this way, these three sides end up giving the impression that they are merely stalling for time. Perhaps they think that they are being clever and that they have discovered how to work a 24-hour media cycle. They should remember that with every 24 hours that goes by, 100 or more Syrian lives are lost, and the hole that Damascus, Moscow and Washington find themselves in gets only that much deeper.