(Foreign Affairs) (Co-authored with Jeremy Shapiro) The suspension of the Syrian peace talks in Geneva seemed to validate observers’ cynicism and pessimism in the run-up to the negotiations. The talks, naysayers argue, are pointless because Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad now has a chance at victory. “Assad is winning in Syria. Russia has shifted the balance of power there dramatically,” Joshua Landis and Steven Simon wrote in Foreign Affairs. “The real question is how much of Syria Assad can retake."
The situation in Syria is indeed dire, and peace is a distant prospect. But much of the cynicism about the Geneva talks stems from false expectations about what they can achieve. Ending a civil war turned proxy war requires building peace one step at time, one actor at a time. The Geneva talks may be formally described as an effort to bring together the Syrian parties, but the most they can actually accomplish is getting key external actors involved in the civil war, namely the United States and Russia, on the same page. From the U.S. perspective, the point of the process should thus not be a settlement. […]
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