The U.S. and three other nations met in Vienna, Austria, late last week to discuss the fate of Syria under the veil of peace talks. Our country, along with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, was content discussing the way ahead regarding this small nation without input from either the government of Bashar Assad or the Syrian rebels, tepidly backed by the U.S., fighting him. It is troubling to think that these four countries, whose forays into affecting change in Syria have had tepid results at best, have the audacity to discuss peace and a post-Assad regime without including the two main belligerents to the conflict.
Civil war has been waged in Syria for over four years with no real end in sight. Moreover, it is no secret that both Russia and Iran, who have openly embraced Assad's regime in the past and backed his government, do not necessarily want to replace the current leader unless it is with someone sympathetic to their causes (most likely at the expense of U.S. interests in the region). Russia has also now entered the military conflict, ostensibly to prosecute the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but in reality targeting the Syrian rebels, creating even greater instability in Syria.
Recently it has come to light through congressional testimony, that the military's train and equip program has woefully failed. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, acknowledged in September that we had less than a half dozen rebels ready to fight in Syria. Last month, both Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, all but admitted military failure in Syria during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Thinking that Mr. Assad would succumb to international pressure now and capitulate is laughable. More to the point, to conduct peace talks without Mr. Assad's government and the rebels pursuing the fight against his regime is tantamount to an exercise in futility. Moreover, when one adds in the ISIL variable to the equation, this quagmire is even more troubling. Syria is in a terrible civil war with a humanitarian crisis escalating daily. Refugees are flooding into Europe, and even the United States has agreed to raise its cap on worldwide refugees over the next two years to take in more of those affected by the conflict. The situation will most likely get far worse before it will make a turn for the better.
What did the four countries really hope to achieve through the meeting in Vienna? The United States wants to be a leader; our country would like to be seen as a power to be respected and held in high regard, one that can effect change. However, before the United States can take the lead in pushing for peace, its diplomatic and military leaders need to remember the basic concepts of power in order to tip the scales in their favor.
Having served 20 years in the Army, spending nearly eight of those years abroad (including two tours in Afghanistan), one thing that I have come to learn is that the enemy gets a vote. Hope is not a course of action, and having aspirations of grandeur will not make peace come to fruition. We have a lot more work in front of us (both diplomatically and militarily) before we can see the end to this conflict.
John M. Weaver is an assistant professor of intelligence analysis at York College of Pennsylvania. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.