“If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva II to hand the keys to Damascus over (to the opposition), then he might as well not go,” said Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi, as quoted by AFP. “The decision rests with President Assad. He will lead the period of transition, if there is one.”
As of this week, even seasoned U.S. diplomats are echoing that consensus as a practical reality – Assad as a fixture in power.
“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again,” said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. He told the New York Times, “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”
Given a weakened Syrian opposition abroad and a regime that’s played an adept hand against opponents at home – effectively striking down potential competitors – Syria now faces a limited options pool. Until and unless there’s a creative alternative proffered by the Geneva process, Syrians are facing a country that’s split between Assad’s continued rule or increasing dominance by extremist ideologues.
So if there’s no changeover in power, and potentially no transition, what is there? A worsening humanitarian crisis, according to the U.N., and the consolidating power of Islamist factions. (Meanwhile, Al-Qaida affiliated groups are attracting Americans and other foreign fighters). In a reflection of that fact, the U.S. has reached out to “a variety of Islamist groups” on the ground, though the State Department insists they don’t include al-Qaida-linked groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Earlier this week, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there’s “massive evidence” that the Assad regime is responsible for war crimes
and crimes against humanity. But there’s little momentum towards accountability – no sign of transitional justice, if there’s no transition in play.
While Syria’s politics stand still, its chemical weapons are churning towards destruction. The most dangerous of them will be removed from the country and destroyed at sea by U.S. naval ships outfitted with weapons destruction units.