Both US and Russia’s vision to end the conflict in Syria are divorced from realities on the ground, say Syria experts.
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.
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.