As the conflict in Syria drags and with a polio outbreak, there has been a call by many Arab states and Western powers, including the U.S., for renewed peace talks. A halftime, if you will, to allow both sides to try to resolve the conflict at the bargaining table. The Western powers are particularly interested in getting the “moderate opposition” to the bargaining table. The supposed intent of these talks would be to end the violence, but in reality it appears to more of a face saving maneuver by the Western powers for the “moderate opposition” like the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). These “moderates” have been marginalized by hard line Islamist organizations like the al-Nusra Front, which are suspected of having contacts with al-Qaeda. This has split the opposition and presents the real possibility of Assad and his regime of remaining in power is Syria
The Arab states, the European powers, and the U.S. have all stated that Bashar al-Assad has to be removed and that under no circumstance should he be allowed to remain in power. Despite these stern words, none of the powers in question have shown the commitment to actually topple Assad, except for the Islamists. The question becomes does Assad really need to go? If the Islamist opposition triumphs form a new government will Syria become a jihadist safe zone? Can the patchwork of ethnicities and sects that make-up Syria survive without a dictatorial government?
Publically, the U.S. has not really answered these questions. The president and his administration, along with much of the American people, have been satisfied with “removing” chemical weapons from the battlefield. This is indeed a minor triumph, but, this intervention has done precious little to stop the war or topple Assad. The groups who have put the most strain on the Assad regime are the Islamists. It seems that these peace talks are designed to give more legitimacy to the “moderate” opposition and energize this faction, but there is little support in Europe or the U.S. for significant assistance to the rebels moderate or otherwise. In the meantime, Assad continues to receive backing from Russia, Iran, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
The Kurdish factions of northeastern Syria are the wild card in this conflict fighting the Assad regime, the Islamists, the “moderates”, and occasionally one another. They also have received material and diplomatic support from the Kurds of Iraq. And most recently they have seized a major border checkpoint between Syria and Iraq opening up the possibility of greater cooperation. Will the Kurds be present at the peace talks?
Despite talks of peace, the harsh reality is that the Syrian Civil War will drag on. The opposition will remain divided and the “moderates” will become marginalized even further. Without significant European or American support, opposition groups like the FSA and SNC will become minor players. Assad will maintain the support of his foreign backers and could even win over some of the old “moderate opposition.” The Islamists and their backers in the Persian Gulf will continue to try to topple the regime, but will eventually lose because they will never be able to build a consensus government. The U.S. and its European allies better get used to Assad in power in Syria; because at halftime it doesn’t appear he’s going anywhere.