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Kerry’s Syrian illusion

Israel/Palestine
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens at the outset of the Syrian Donors' Conference in Kuwait City , Kuwait, on January 15, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens at the outset of the Syrian Donors’ Conference in Kuwait City , Kuwait, on January 15, 2014

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

That was quick. One day the United Nations announces Iran will attend the Syrian peace talks, then, boom, the next day they’re not.

Secretary of State Kerry stood his ground. No Iran. Without guaranteed Assad regime change.

But the question remains: Is Kerry pursuing regime change in Syria or is he posturing for the world community?

The UN is an embarrassment to the international community. It is part of a global and surprisingly colonial peace industry that provides jobs for diplomats who want to live outside their country, military personnel who pose as peacekeepers and justice and peace folks looking for well-paid employment.

So the UN loses once again and Kerry wins – what?

It seems the United States believes in virtual nation-states that though vastly different – without American values and so forth – reside in “our” neighborhood – which means they must respond to US military and diplomatic pressure. They answer to and are there to be manipulated by us.

But if Kerry and the Obama administration may have noticed, Syria – Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, too – live somewhere else. Long range, these countries are beyond our mandate. They sink or swim in their own region. Once America leaves the scene, they’re back, often in worse shape, to where they were. Does anyone believe that Iran isn’t an important actor in Syria’s future?

Since Kerry is farming out the Palestinian question to the Saudis – for housing and finances for resettlement to deal with the Palestinian right of (no) return – and Egypt – to destroy Hamas and deliver a safe border for Israel – why not enlist Iran in the further dismemberment of Palestine?

Iran could be assigned the task of taking down Hezbollah in Lebanon. Doing so would demonstrate that Iran is traveling the American-defined straight and narrow.

We are left with the diplomatic question of questions: Why isn’t Kerry applying his Israel-first strategy to Iran as he is elsewhere?

Both the Guardian and the New York Times report that the Geneva conference is more a show and tell event than a real negotiating session. Though Russia is angry, at least so far it remains on board. No doubt a communique will emerge from the event. Has it already been crafted?

Obviously, Syria’s Assad isn’t going anywhere for the time being. Since militarily he seems to have the upper hand, why flee now? Besides, for some players in the region he is the one to restore order in Syria. In spite of the political posturing, the United States – along with Israel – has already accepted Assad for the foreseeable future.

Playing the dump Assad card – without doing anything about it – is playing with Syrian lives on a massive scale. But that’s been going on since the Syrian conflict began. It’s likely to stretch out for years to come.

The dark cloud hanging over the Geneva conference is the suffering of the Syrian people and whether America’s (real) position on the Syrian regime is more like its (real) position on the Egyptian regime. Criticize the dictatorship we enable.

Kerry should get off his anti-Iran soapbox and get on with helping to end the suffering of the Syrian people. Anything less is a study in cynicism which suffering people around the world, especially in the Middle East, know all too well.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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7 Responses

  1. Mike_Konrad
    Mike_Konrad
    January 21, 2014, 10:17 am

    One of the reasons for the constantly flip-flopping US policy on Syria is that Israel itself is flip-flopping. They cannot decide if they hate Assad or Al-Qaeda rebels more. Obama is getting mixed signals.

    There is no way the US can help anyone in Syria without taking sides. To that end, the USA should stay out.

    In a war between Shi’a Iran and Sunni Al Qaeda, the US should root for whoever is losing.

    I am sorry that Sunni Palestinians are starving in Yarmouk, but to rescue them would be to rescue Al-Qaeda rebels inside the camp – even if they are operating without Palestinians permissions.

    Stay out of it.

    ==================================

    BTW How come my posts are not archived like everyone else’s?

  2. hophmi
    hophmi
    January 21, 2014, 10:20 am

    “The UN is an embarrassment to the international community. It is part of a global and surprisingly colonial peace industry that provides jobs for diplomats who want to live outside their country, military personnel who pose as peacekeepers and justice and peace folks looking for well-paid employment.”

    But when it comes to Israel, everything they say is sacrosanct, correct?

    “Playing the dump Assad card – without doing anything about it – is playing with Syrian lives on a massive scale. But that’s been going on since the Syrian conflict began. It’s likely to stretch out for years to come.”

    So what is your solution?

    “Kerry should get off his anti-Iran soapbox and get on with helping to end the suffering of the Syrian people.”

    Oh. How do you think he should do that, exactly?

    • Donald
      Donald
      January 21, 2014, 7:53 pm

      Bring everyone involved to the peace table. Don’t keep Iran out.

      In an ideal world half the people at the resulting peace conference would be on trial for war crimes or other human rights violations in their own country or elsewhere (and I mean the US, Iran, Russia, the Saudis, on top of the Syrian government officials and the rebel leaders), but that’s life.

      Would this work? No idea. What’s your suggestion?

  3. just
    just
    January 21, 2014, 10:40 am

    How come we are sooo stupid?

    Good and normalized relations with Iran is essential to building peace in the region– in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and with I/P.

    “Doing so would demonstrate that Iran is traveling the American-defined straight and narrow”

    What “straight and narrow” are you referring to, sir?

  4. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw
    January 21, 2014, 12:27 pm

    If, according to the Geneva 1 communique there was no mention of Assad standing down, and Kerry is insisting that it did, why does Russia not insist the US not attend Geneva 2 either, since they also do not agree with the Geneva 1 formula? Why should the US insist Iran not attend when 40 other countries, including Switzerland can, maybe the US thinks it can get regime change through diplomacy having failed with force. In Syria the majority forces of any consequence ranged against Assad do not believe in democracy, that is why they insist on being installed in power, with that mindset they have to be defeated on the battlefield, the enablers of the head chopping terrorists, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey must be told to turn off the funds and military aid or face the consequences.

  5. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw
    January 21, 2014, 2:30 pm

    Since Kerry is farming part of the Palestinian question to Saudi Arabia, he might well farm it all out because according to the newspaper Al-Hayat they reported a Western diplomat saying that the latest meeting between Kerry and Netanyahu lasted for seven hours and members of both teams heard loud screaming coming from the other room.
    The newspaper attributed Kerry’s postponement of his next visit to the region, initially planned for 13 January, to that fiery meeting. The visit has reportedly been postponed indefinitely. Kerry seeks extension of talks to end of year..https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/9348-us-seeks-extension-for-palestinian-israeli-talks

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 22, 2014, 7:52 am

      I think Obama knows Kerry’s immense efforts are going nowhere, so why not just let Kerry’s effort expire by not planning or announcing any new Kerry visit? I guess, because Obama wants to deal with domestic issues and the peace process allows him to do so as it looks like he’s trying to do something about the I-P conflict.

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