Action Group on Syria Fails to Deliver

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Middle East In Focus

Last week’s meeting in Geneva, which strived to bridge the differences between Russian and Western policies on Syria and which was attended by all members of the UN Security Council as well as Arab League representatives, ended with very little to show for the effort. Frustrated with the inability of the international community to hold the Assad regime accountable, many wonder how — and if — the United States and its allies will bring an end to the crisis. Meanwhile, there are others who see the developments in Syria as a matter to be resolved by Syrians themselves.

Calling the deal coming out of Geneva a “dud,” the Khaleej Times editorial states: “The tentative agreement hammered out in Geneva on Saturday by the action group for Syria might appear to have satisfied Russia, but in the absence of any commitment on its part to exclude President Bashar Al Assad and those close to his regime from the proposed transitional government, it will remain a dud deal….It remains to be seen now as to how a war-fatigued West, battling an economic crisis, in Europe and other parts of the world, will ensure the end of the Assad regime, without risking yet another conflagration in a volatile region.”

The Gulf Today editorial dubbed the Geneva meeting a “senseless exercise to end Syrian bloodshed…. Whatever said and done, it is clear that the Action Group on Syria meeting, attended by the five permanent Security Council members and Arab League representatives, has not bridged U.S.-Russian differences over Assad….The U.S. and its allies will continue to prepare for military intervention in Syria and look for ways to topple the Syrian regime outside the UN Security Council where Russia and China have used and will continue to use their veto power to pre-empt effective against the rulers of Damascus….Iran will continue to pump weapons and other forms of help to the Damascus regime. And the Syrian rulers will press ahead with their carnage with impunity until the world would be forced to act.”

Similarly, the Daily Star staff believes “the meetings held in capitals around the world to discuss the situation in Syria have been exercises in futility and failure, the results of which had been written on the wall before they even started….The meeting of world powers in Geneva over the weekend was rather an exercise in ambiguity and vagueness, not to mention a masterpiece in semantics. Its resolutions were able to make everybody happy, thanks to their openness to interpretation….Should they, as they appear to, want the Syrians to solve their own problems, the resulting conflict must at least be on equal footing. Therefore, let them arm the people so at least they can stand on their feet and have enough resources to confront the unlimited firepower of the regime.”

There are some, however, who are cautiously optimistic. Arab News’ Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed suggests: “The results of the just-concluded Geneva conference on Syria came nevertheless as a recognition of the end of the Assad regime, but without clearly saying that….The problem had always been Moscow. Now it is Assad who will foil this solution. I think he has been aware since the beginning of the year that he has lost the battle and wants to take the country into a civil war that will ensure him with some power somewhere in the country….Assad is sure that a civil war will oblige the Alawiyeen to support him. A solution according to the Yemeni style, i.e giving up power peacefully as the Russians want, will see him ending a political refugee in a cottage at the Black Sea under Russian protection.”

One of the main points of discussion over the past few weeks has been Russia’s position and motives for sticking with Syria. In an op-ed for the Daily Star, Dmitri Trenin argues: “But barring a huge shift in the conflict’s internal dynamics, Russia is unlikely to change its position….from a Russian policy perspective, Syria — much like Libya, Iraq or Yugoslavia previously — is primarily about the world order. It is about who decides….Russia might be willing to cooperate with the United States and other countries if the goal moves toward ‘transition’ rather than ‘regime change’ — what has been dubbed the ‘Yemen model.’”

Despite assurances of Russian support, some believe the days of the Assad regime might be numbered. As the Saudi Gazette editorial points out, “Thanks to the continuing deliveries of Russian weaponry, the Syrian armed forces are not short of arms and ammunition. However, they may be weakening on another front — manpower. Defections, including those of senior commanders, continue….Add to this, the feeling of exhaustion that many ordinary soldiers will be experiencing after 16 months of rising conflict….Now Syria’s military planners have a new threat to face….Turkey seems to be seeking to create a de facto buffer zone inside Syria itself. Does Damascus, with the strength and morale of its army slowly ebbing away, still have sufficient military resources to counter this?”

But, there are those who believe the real root of the problem in Syria is the involvement of foreign powers. Therefore any solution that still involves outside powers is doomed to fail. In a commentary for Kuwait Times, Badrya Darwish makes just this point, asking that the international community “Leave Syrians alone…. The Syrian problem has now become an enigma where you have a highly-armed opposition and a dictator president with quite a strong army. No Annan’s plans A or Z can solve the conundrum. There will be a lot of bloodshed in Syria but in the end, what might work is if every outside country involved let the Syrians themselves solve their problem….As for the Arabs, I am not bothered by what they do because look what they are doing in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere. They do not have a say. Leave the Syrians alone, please!”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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