Envoy's role in limbo as diplomacy in Syria is dead
The Syrian regime’s plan was to use the government wing – its ministers and their offices – to appear to be abiding by the conditions of the Annan plan while its military wing went on shelling and slaughtering rebels and civilians in other parts of the country. The real power lies in the military and security branches; the government itself is, at this time, little more than an empty, powerless shell.
The truth is Annan’s plan for Syria never had a chance of succeeding because the regime sees the only solution to the crisis through a military lens. It is hell-bent on imposing its will on the 23 million people of Syria and it is for this reason it cannot succeed.
The regime is crumbling, but is determined to take the country down with it. Resorting to bombing dissenting neighbourhoods from afar is probably a sign of the regime’s weakening infantry capabilities, particularly in Aleppo, where it has been engaging in a war of attrition with rebels for the past month.
Today, there are essentially only two army divisions fighting the rebels – the 4th division and the Republican Guard – both overwhelming staffed by Alawite soldiers and security officers.
Diplomacy is dead in Syria, at least until a time comes when the Assad regime finds itself on its knees. Not until the rebel movement has a more formidable military arsenal and has gained control of the two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus, will the Assad regime, now essentially a state-sponsored militia, look to sit down and talk.
Of course, by then it will be too late for President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle.
The international community has made it clear it does not want to dirty its hands in Syria, where the situation is too complicated; it does not really understand the various dynamics at play.
Perhaps this approach is wise: even though a large and growing percentage of the Syrian population now opposes the regime, an even greater number of Syrians oppose direct foreign military intervention. Speaking to Syrians in Beirut recently, I found the sentiment was that even a Libya-style air war on government positions would drive more Syrians to the side of the regime.
Perhaps the thinking behind the appointment of Brahimi as envoy is not to try to establish peace between the two warring sides, but instead to have a point man in place following the inevitable fall of the Syrian regime.
The international community as well as the parties involved in the conflict will look to someone to gather around in the immediate aftermath and in the months that follow as Syria seeks to begin functioning as a proper state again.
Nobody knows when this may be. One thing we can be sure of is that many more Syrians will die before it happens.
Stephen Starr is the author of Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising. He will speak at Amnesty International, Fleet Street, Dublin, tonight at 7pm and sign copies of his book