More holes than Swiss cheese: Policy on Iran and Syria

In Geneva and Montreux, Switzerland played host to major conferences featuring Iran and Syria. Nothing was resolved. Our leaders either kick the can down the road or miss all the important points entirely

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The Swiss Cheese Model
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Robin Mitchinson
On 26 January 2014 15:50

Two events -- with good and bad outcomes in mind, possibly amongst the most important this century -- have been taking place in Switzerland: the Davos gathering of the mighty; and the Syria conference in Montreux.

At the Davos meeting, the President of Iran made a bombshell announcement that it was time to end 30 years of hostility with the US. This must have been cleared by the Ayatollah and we can confidently take it as national policy (which of course does not mean it is sincere).

How America will react remains to be seen. Will they take it as a piece of propaganda designed to get America to lower its guard, or will they see it as a once-and-for all chance to change the political landscape of the Gulf region? Boldness or cynicism?

The Republicans mock Obama for selling out to Iran, quoting the boasting in the Iranian media about Obama being bamboozled into a settlement. But there is no settlement. That's the truth of the matter.

Iran has six months’ probation during which time there will be a modest easing of sanctions. The hard bargaining comes later, and Iran’s negotiating position is not strong because sanctions have crippled its economy. Not that the current US administration appears capable of playing a strong hand even when it has one.

In short, the US is being called upon to trust the untrustworthy. But the worst-case scenario for now at least is probably the status quo. For optimists, Davos gives modest cause for hope, though if you wanted to pick holes in it you wouldn't have the slightest problem.

Montreux was D.O.A. The US mishandled it from the outset.

The key players in the Syrian blood bath are Saudi Arabia and Iran. Short of decisive Western military action, there can be no settlement without their participation in peace talks.

They are fighting a proxy war over the struggle for Sunni or Shia supremacy in the region. They provide the wherewithal for the killing to continue. All other countries are merely supporting actors in a tragedy. As ever, Russia is exploiting the situation to extend its own influence.

America arm-twisted Ban Ki Moon to disinvite Iran. That killed the conference, which may have been futile anyway, before it had even begun.

Add to this the absence of a threat of military intervention from the West and John Kerry’s asinine assertion that there would be no place for Assad or his regime in any future settlement, and the regime is left with no choice but to fight until the bitter end. Don't make value judgments; just apply logic.

Since the surrender of WMD, atrocities against the civilian population in Syria have increased immensely. If Assad survives -- an unlikely prospect in the long term -- he is certain to be arraigned for crimes against humanity. To repeat, logic dictates that he is left with no choice but to stay put and keep fighting.

Our leaders have no concept of history. We have been here before. The situation increasingly resembles Afghanistan.

America armed and supported the mujahedeen in its resistance to Soviet intervention which killed one million Afghans and left a totally dysfunctional state. It also radicalised Islam.

The messy Geneva Accord essentially put the Taliban in charge armed with American weapons and supplies with which they continue to torment us.

Osama bin Laden fought in Afghanistan as part of Saudi military aid. Three thousand British nationals are said to be fighting for the opposition in Syria, learning useful terrorist skills to bring home.

The leaders in the West should have read ‘The Great Game’ to understand that all foreign interventions in Afghanistan are doomed.

And they have forgotten that the Balkans conflict was resolved by a mixture of talk and thump.

A possible outcome is the disintegration of Syria into an Assad-rump in the west, the defection of the Kurds to Iraqi Kurdistan, and the remainder to areas controlled by feuding war-lords. No definitive, or clean and tidy, conclusion is likely at this time.

And all this in the cradle of civilisation!

Robin Mitchinson is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former barrister, he is an international public management specialist with almost two decades of experience in institutional development, decentralisation and democratisation processes. He has advised governments and major international institutions across the world

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