UN Security Council Announces Road Map for Peace in Syria

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john kerry abc this week
The United Nations has announced that the Security Council has come to an agreement regarding war-torn Syria, troubled not only by a long civil war but by Islamic State inroads. Ted Cruz wants to carpet bomb until the sand glows, but the UN is taking a rather different road – which was, after all, the purpose of the organization.

According to its meeting coverage, “The Security Council today endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria, setting out an early-January timetable for United Nations-facilitated talks between the Government and opposition members, as well as the outlines of a nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned had taken initial steps towards a political transition”:

Unanimously adopting resolution 2254 (2015), foreign ministers and others gathered in New York for the third meeting of the International Syria Support Group, the Council reconfirmed its endorsement of the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué, and endorsed the “Vienna Statements” in pursuit of the Communiqué’s implementation as the basis for a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political transition to end the conflict.

The Geneva Communiqué is one of those UN resolutions that cause people to question the effectiveness of the UN, calling as it did for “Identified steps and measures by the parties to secure full implementation of the six-point plan and Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043, including an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms.”

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Obviously, that didn’t happen. Bad as they were in 2012, things have only gone downhill since then. Still, the UN tells us of yesterday’s decision:

“The Syrian people will decide the future of Syria,” the text stated. By other terms, the Council requested that the Secretary-General — through his good offices and the efforts of his Special Envoy — convene representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process “on an urgent basis”, with a target of early January for the initiation of talks. It expressed support for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations which would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution.

In announcing that member states agree that terrorism must end, but finding no agreement on the Assad regime in Syria, the UN is hardly breaking new ground, and it can always be argued that anything the UN decides is just talk, and nothing more. But Secretary of State John Kerry is hopeful.

Kerry, who is Council President for December, said in his remarks (full text here):

By approving Resolution 2254 today, this council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support. After four and a half years of war, this is the first time we have been able to come together at the United Nations in the Security Council to embrace a road forward. During that time, one Syrian in 20 has been killed or wounded; one in five is a refugee; one in two has been displaced. The average life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 20 years.

We need to reverse the course, and that is the council’s goal here this afternoon: to put an end to the indiscriminate bombing, the acts of terror, the torture, and the bloodshed. And our shared task is to find a way to make that happen.

While this hardly matters to Republicans, who see all refugees as terrorists in the making, but the United States is part of a world community, and whether Republicans like it or not, what affects one of us affects another. We have spent far too much money and too much precious blood to recklessly charge into another Middle Eastern conflict.

One of the major obstacles to peace is the question of who will run Syria? As the UN explains, “there were obstacles and sharp differences in the international community, especially about the future of President Bashar al-Assad.” Indeed, the Russians have engaged in some Soviet-style military adventurism in Syria, all designed to prop up their friend Assad.

This is a problem, of course, when John Kerry says “the Syrian leader had lost the ability and credibility to unite his country” and that one of the goals of the U.S. is to help “our” friends, because obviously, the Soviets want to help “their” friends, and never the twain shall meet:

In support of this objective, President Obama has set for my country three interrelated goals. The first is to support our friends and to ensure that the instability created by the civil war in Syria does not spread further beyond its borders. And that is why we’re providing a record amount of humanitarian assistance, and it’s why we’re doing more to help Syria’s neighbors, to strengthen their capacity to safeguard their territory and to defend against external threats.

While Russia is busily bombing everybody who opposes Assad (our friends) while studiously avoiding harming Daesh, both Russia and the U.S. do at least want to see stability in Syria. Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, pointedly stressed “that all countries claiming to fight the group must do what they said rather than directing the bulk of their attacks against non-extremist opposition groups.”

Ouch. Russia, are you listening? Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, supported re-implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, but said that “Only Syrian-led, inclusive dialogue can put an end to the untold suffering of the Syrian people.” Yesterday’s action “was a response to attempts to impose an external solution on Syria.”

In all a rather strange thing to say while Russia has boots on the ground trying to impose that very external solution on Syria. In more general terms, UN involvement at all is a form of external solution calling for an internal solution. Nobody said geopolitics wasn’t messy.

It’s no wonder Republicans prefer the simplicity of war and the demonizing of their opposite parties. It’s so much simpler.

Putin gets this. By their inroads into Turkish air space, Russia has shown less enthusiasm for the ability of our friends to “defend against external threats.” That makes them very cross indeed, (though it is rumored that Putin is very much looking forward to some manly topless horse-back riding with whatever Republican wins the nomination).

Kerry went on to say,

Second, we are determined, with our coalitional partners, to degrade and defeat the terrorist organization known as Daesh. In the past half year, the coalition and its partners have worked with Iraqi forces in liberating Tikrit, freeing Sinjar, removing terrorist commanders from the battlefield, cutting off terrorist supply lines, hitting their oil facilities, and depriving Daesh of more and more of the territory that it once controlled.

According to the Security Council’s resolution, Kerry explains, “the purpose of those negotiations between the responsible opposition and the government is to facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian governance within six months. The process would lead to the drafting of a new constitution and arrangements for internationally supervised election within 18 months.”

Time will tell if the UN and the Security Council have made any real headway into the Syrian conflict, but at least they are talking, and not simply carpet bombing each other into a sand-glowing Stone Age.

This is the sort of effort we won’t ever see again if the Republican Party gets control of the White House. After all, they’d be perfectly happy bombing Disney’s Agrabah. We can lament the outcome of these diplomatic negotiations, but we should never regret the effort to find peace through means other than war.