‘The United States and Russia are announcing a plan, which we hope will reduce violence, reduce suffering and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a transition in Syria… that, if followed, has the ability to provide a turning point, a moment of change.’
So said US secretary of state John Kerry over the weekend. Details of the latest Syria peace plan are sketchy, largely because the five concession-laden, back-scratching documents in which the plan has been outlined are to be kept secret. But we do know that, as of yesterday evening, there is to be a 10-day ‘cessation of hostilities’, after which the US and Russia will coordinate a bombing campaign against particular elements in the Syrian conflict, including ISIS and the increasingly dominant Islamist force in the conflict, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra).
Questions are rightly being asked of a plan rich in doublespeaking irony. After all, it’s a cessation of hostilities in which the ostensible enemies, ISIS and Fateh al-Sham, will not only continue to fight, but will continue to be fought: a cessation of hostilities in which hostilities do not actually cease. And it’s a plan riven with implausibility, too. How exactly are the US and Russia, not to mention the other key players, from Turkey to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad itself, meant to agree who it is they should all be bombing? Remember, they have been spending the past five years creating this infernal cat’s cradle of a conflict, not only fighting each other, or even fighting each other through their proxies, but also even turning their own proxies on each other, be it America’s NATO ally Turkey attacking America’s regional ally, the Kurds, or the Kurdish YPG attacking CIA-backed anti-Assad rebels.
But there’s a deeper, even more troubling question to be asked of this plan, this attempt, as the Guardian put it, to create ‘a sustainable peace’: is this it? Is this what the past five years of conflict were for? A Syria that, to all intents and purposes, resembles the Syria of January 2011, the pre-Arab Spring nation of Assad, with the same borders, the same incendiary tensions, and the same lack of freedom? Of course, we don’t know for certain that that’s what the plan amounts to. There’s no transparency demanded here. But given Assad’s willingness to comply, given Turkey’s assent, and given the cautious enthusiasm of both Russia and the US, it’s safe to assume that all these parties’ interests are being protected. That means no ‘regime change’, no democratic undermining of Alawite-minority control of a Sunni-dominated nation, and no independence, quasi or otherwise, for the Kurds.
It’s a plan, in other words, that wants to erase the past five years, to reduce the chaos, the struggle, the loss, to nothing. And what loss: nearly half-a-million Syrians have been killed; 4.8million have fled; and a further 6.5million have been displaced within Syria. Cities have been devastated, an infrastructure blasted away, communities torn apart and made to bear witness to unimaginable barbarity. And it’s all been for what? A ‘negotiated peace’ in the interests of the former status quo?