January 29, 2018
A few days ago we used outlandishly moustached 70’s balladeer Jim Croce to explain what was then the ‘upcoming’ Russian sponsored peace talks in Sochi. Fast forward a bit and here we are, those talks on the banks of the Black Sea are no longer upcoming, they’re happening as we speak. And while we still like Jim Croce just fine, we think at this point soul crooner and unofficial mayor of Memphis, Tennessee William Bell might have more to tell us about what Unky Vlad is trying accomplish during his ‘National Dialogue Conference’.
In 1969 Bell, having just returned from military service in Vietnam, locked himself into the studio and made his stunning record, ‘The Soul of a Bell.’ The smash single from that record was ‘Everybody Loves and Winner,’ the second verse of which is:
Everywhere I turned
There was a hello and a smile
I never thought
They’d be gone after a while
Well my friends let me down
and the smiles have turned to frowns
Everybody loves a winner
Everybody loves a winner
But when you lose, you lose alone
Most of the glowering looks pointed at the Sochi conference originate from Geneva, Switzerland. In Geneva, the UN has been holding negotiations about the Syrian disaster for roughly a year, and to suggest they have been less than a smashing success is to wallow in understatement. So far, none of the parties have even sat down in the same room together. Beyond that, there is little to recommend the opposition groups negotiating, or rather not negotiating, in Switzerland. The main Arab group is the ‘National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces,’ a barely functioning collection of expats, Assad despisers, and the odd Syrian army guy who defected early in the war when that seemed like a sharp move. The non-Arab part of the NCSROP consists of Kurdish representatives from the Kurdish National Council. It’s difficult for an opposition to be more hollow than the Arab parties in Geneva, but the KNC might just manage that. Our old friend Massoud Barzani, of the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party, created the KNC in Syria as a way to extend his influence into the Syrian fight. Who else helped create the NKC? The Erdogan government in Turkey. Because nothing says ‘fair deal for the Kurds’ like a party founded by a right wing Turkish president.
In other words, the Geneva talks are not talks (nobody is talking anyway) and the representatives there have little influence in Syria. If tomorrow a magic was were waved and the Geneva talks produced a signed peace agreement, the non-Assad signatories would not be able to deliver their side of the bargain.
None of which is to say that Bashar al-Assad is a gentle, blameless opthamologist who just wants a fair and equitable Syria. But the game is so clearly up on the Geneva process that the UN envoy to the talks, Staffan de Mistura, is making the trip to Sochi while the Syrian opposition in Geneva refuses to do so. And the ‘winners’ in the war, the Kurdish YPG, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and Assad, are more than willing to play along. They are saying all of the right things, that Sochi is merely a way to get better proposals on the table in Geneva and that all are welcome at their shindig by the sea. Sochi will hardly be a lovefest in any case, and may do no better than the Geneva talks, but the hosts are spinning the slightly less legitimate nature of the conference in their favor, by setting expectations low.
All the while, John McCain’s ‘moderate Syrian rebels’ sit in the Alps where nobody listens to their demands. Where their friends have let them down, and even the UN envoy’s smiles have turned to frowns. It’s a tough world that William Bell describes, but it’s the one we live in. When you lose, you lose alone.