Sunday, 12 May 2013

‘Assad must go’: Western-Gulf intransigence bulwarks peace in Syria

For anyone who has been critical of the Western narrative on Syria, the ongoing diplomatic circus begs a very basic question: How can countries which have bankrolled and armed the insurgency honestly broker a meaningful peace deal? Well, they can’t. The joint effort recently announced by Moscow and Washington to bring the government and insurgents to an international conference in line with the Geneva Communiqué is a welcoming development, but some major issues have already come to the forefront. Firstly, there is ongoing disagreement over who should represent the opposition in a Syrian peace process. In addition to the blatant Qatari proxies in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Russia has requested that the National Coordinating Body (NCB) also be present. In stark contrast to the foreign-based SNC, which is lined with figures who have spent the past few decades in the West, the NCB is the internal opposition - and it has caught a lot of flak because it opposes the armed uprising and talks to the Syrian government.

The SNC has maintained it could not accept an invitation to dialogue unless Assad's removal was guaranteed. Russia will not allow for Assad’s departure to be a precondition of talks, and Kerry looks to have shifted the US position by saying Assad's exit should be the outcome of negotiations on a transitional government, rather than a starting point. Let’s be clear – before this conflict started in 2011, Assad oversaw a political system which was certainly authoritarian. The economy was stagnant, the state poorly handled overpopulation issues, and the agricultural sector was suffering from long periods of drought. When Bashar took over from his father, he granted more political breathing space to dissidents, and then backpedalled on reforms when popular movements quickly took shape. In combating the insurgency, Syrian forces killed many of their own citizens in the crossfire. But no matter what anybody thinks of Assad, it is not the place of Washington, London, or Doha to decide his political fate.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at