The Islamic State’s Victory in Vienna

Judging from the official document released by the participants in the Vienna talks on Syria, the Islamic State won a smashing victory simply by sitting on the sidelines watching the international cockfight.

The first two conclusions of the “mutual understanding” resulting from the October 30 Vienna peace talks on Syria expose the fundamental flaw: both points say the same thing – that the “state” is more important to these officials than the “people.” Point 1 calls for preservation of Syria, even though it is precisely the existence of that post-colonial institution that lies at the root of the endless mistreatment of the minorities shoved into it. Point 1 serves the convenience of global leaders eager for stability and influence rather than helping the people who live there. Point 2 calls for the preservation of “state institutions;” in so far as I am aware, the only state institution that currently functions in Syria is Assad’s barrel-bomb war machine. Only with Point 3 is any attention granted those poor people in what used to be called “Syria” who have not yet succeeded in emigrating. And who in this world ever remembers “point 3” of any list?

Whatever may have been accomplished with a wink during lunch, the document these diplomats released gives no hint of anything more than a tragic lowest common denominator sellout of the Syrian people by governments trying to maximize short-term benefits and apparently incapable of imagining creative, positive-sum solutions. The participants in this little meeting should contemplate this: the failure of the Vienna meeting to demonstrate progress constitutes a huge victory for the Islamic State.

This is a curious outcome. If the Islamic State threat does not suffice to focus the minds of global leaders, then exactly what will it take? Certainly, Putin is riding high for the moment, but he could have been happy with consolidating his links to the Allawites, keeping his naval base, and taking home his new position as one of the arbiters of the Mideast. Iran could have been satisfied with its new acceptance by everyone as a member of that arbitration committee, a huge step forward for Iran’s prestige and national security, plus a clear message from Washington that its military presence in some portion of post-Syrian space would be acceptable; from that the U.S. and Iran and Russia could have proceeded to elimiinate their common Islamic State enemy, with the now non-existent Syrian state replaced by Russian, Iranian, Saudi, Kurdish, etc. spheres of influence.

Indeed, this outcome is so obvious given the fear inspired in everyone (except of course the odd couple Erdogan and Assad) by the increasingly well entrenched Islamic State that perhaps, with a wink and a nod, the participants indeed did agree to exactly that but are all just too embarrassed to admit it in public. Well and good, except that agreements kept secret when they should be trumpeted as historic successes just set up the good guys for becoming the road kill of extremists. So, tragically, at the moment, the Islamic State appears to have won a very dangerous victory that can only fill its propaganda machine with new energy.

Whatever the real story of the Vienna meeting, it was handled badly and for that the world will pay.

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