15 November 2015

The SyrianConflict

Speeches at the United Nations by Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in late September 2015 put forth radically different and conflicting visions for how to solve the Syrian conflict. Meetings between the two leaders afterwards only further highlighted the gaps between US and Russian thinking on the Syrian conflict, particularly with regards to the future of President Bashar al-Assad and his role in a political transition process.

As the international community debates these competing Russian and US visions for Syria, a third vision is unfolding on the ground that may yet prove to have the most traction and could serve as the basis for a future settlement. In recent weeks, Iranian and Turkish officials brokered a comprehensive agreement between regime and rebel forces in the northwest of the country that, among other things, provided a no-fly zone, a six-month cessation of hostilities in specific areas, rebel withdrawal from Zabadani along the Lebanese border, and civilian evacuation from two villages under rebel siege.

This agreement comes amid wider efforts by UN envoy Steffan de Mistura to negotiate local freezes throughout other parts of the country to facilitate aid provision and provide civilians relief from lengthy sieges.

And while the local freezes and the Iranian-Turkish agreement have proven extremely difficult to negotiate and easy to break, at the very least, they represent an attempt at addressing the Syrian conflict based on realities on the ground. And herein lies the fundamental problem with the Russian and US visions for Syria: mainly, that the competing policy visions, which we are led to believe are Syria's only two options moving forward, are completely divorced from the realities inside of Syria.

Debates over whether or not Assad should be part of a transition process miss the point - the conflict is well beyond being solved by his removal. As such, any solution that does not accurately embody and reflect the realities of life inside of Syria today and the ecologies of violence that have taken root cannot be taken seriously moving forward. Unfortunately, no such solution is on offer. What is needed moving forward are measures - not grand plans - that seek strategic, targeted relief for civilian populations, while reducing armed hostilities and violence in the country.Whether or not this can eventually lead to a solution to the conflict is unclear, and perhaps even naive, but at the very least, such measures can change the dynamics on the ground such that serious negotiations could be initiated.

What we call the "Syrian conflict" is today really the conglomeration of micro-conflicts for which solutions cannot be found in the halls of the General Assembly.

What is needed today are serious attempts inside of Syria to build the basis for a mediated, negotiated solution that addresses the main drivers and outcomes of the conflict.

This means thinking differently both about how we see the conflict and its solution.

It also means thinking beyond the US' and Russia's plans for Syria.

Comment by Samer Abboud, Associate Professor of international studies, University of Arcadia

The first publisher of this article was Aljazeera