The image of more than 12 foreign ministers gathered around a negotiating table in Vienna this week to discuss a resolution to the Syrian crisis will no doubt be one of the lasting images of the conflict.

The absence of any Syrian representation highlights that a resolution to the conflict is far outside of Syrian hands. Despite proclamations by the ministers that Syrians should decide their own future, the optics of a peace summit without Syrian representation suggest otherwise.

For years, Syrians have been victims of the violent interventions of the same regional states that are now telling them that they do not have the ability to decide their future.

The same countries that have contributed to the destruction of Syria are promising to bring it back from the dead.


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With the exception of the chemical weapons deal in 2013, the administration's policies towards Syria have been ineffective, and its influence among the political and militarised opposition increasingly weak.

What is perhaps most troubling about the Vienna summit and the political process it hopes to induce is that each country at the table is pursuing a bilateral policy towards Syria that is incompatible with a successful multilateral process to end the conflict.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey, on the one hand, and Iran and Russia on the other, may appear to have complementary goals in Syria, but this is not necessarily the case.

Moreover, as we have seen from past multilateral attempts, countries are more than willing to pay lip service to the process while simultaneously undermining any efforts towards peace by supporting proxies on the ground or through direct military intervention. 

The contradictions between a commitment to multilateralism and bilateralism were brought to the fore when United States President Barack Obama's administration committed to sending Special Forces troops to Syria.

The official explanation is that the troops are being sent to help coordinate continued air strikes. Why now? The air strikes have been occurring for more than a year. 

It is with some ambivalence and resignation that the recent decision by the Obama administration to send Special Forces into Syria should be understood - despite Obama's insistence in 2013 that no American troops would be sent to the country - as a weak attempt to influence the trajectory of the Vienna talks.

Infographic: Syria: A Country Divided [Al Jazeera]

Supporters of the deployment believe that the presence of US troops should serve to contain Russian bombardment, express a commitment to solving the Syrian conflict and the elimination of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, and strengthen the US' negotiating position in Vienna.

 

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However, much like other US attempts at shaping the trajectory and outcome of the Syrian conflict, the deployment will not likely have any impact on the ground, nor on the strengthening of the US' position. 

This is because the administration's efforts have been misguided, limited and ineffectual in both their design and implementation, and the major players in Syria, especially Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia, are well aware of this.

Even the $500m train-and-equip programme to train Syrian rebels proved ineffective and was abandoned by the administration while the US-led air strikes have not undermined ISIL's capacity to capture and hold territory.

With the exception of the chemical weapons deal in 2013, the administration's policies towards Syria have been ineffective and its influence among the political and militarised opposition increasingly weak.

The US is, for all intents and purposes, incapable of shaping the local dynamics between rebel and regime forces on the ground. Unlike Iran, Turkey, Russia and others, the Obama administration is unwilling to commit the kinds of military and political resources needed to substantially shape the conflict and, ultimately, bring it to an end.

This has been a consistent feature of US policy towards Syria since 2011: The administration consistently wants to be seen as doing something, so as long as this does not tip the balance of the conflict one way or another. In both respects, the deployment will fail.

The US' policy of wanting to do something and nothing at the same time revealed itself quite nakedly this week with the announced deployment and the start of the Vienna talks.

Those that hope the deployment will be the start of a larger troop commitment will be disappointed. So will those who believe that the Vienna talks will lead to any breakthroughs on the diplomatic front.

So far, on-the-ground developments have not convinced regional actors that the conflict is worth abandoning. In a context where regional players prefer stalemate to peace, the US deployment will be an ineffectual move that will neither improve their bargaining position nor change the military calculations of regional states.

It may enhance the effectiveness of air strikes and the disastrous effects on the Syrian people.

Unfortunately, the continued decimation of the country and its society seems to be the only thing international actors can agree on. 

Samer Abboud is an associate professor of historical and political studies at Arcadia University and author of the forthcoming book Syria.

Source: Al Jazeera