For Syria, ‘victory’ and ‘peace’ will be relative terms in the short term


What might victory in Syria look like?

That’s one of the questions addressed by a new research paper from Chatham House.

“Victory for any particular actor is likely to prove a relative term,” it says. President Bashar Al Assad’s regime has the military advantage but is not able to recapture and govern the whole of Syria. The paper says that “new elites and warlords” will probably wield power and influence across post-settlement Syria, extremist groups are likely to persist.

This sounds about right considering there’s been a new round of fighting. On Monday, March 20, Syrian government forces regained control of parts of Damascus that were attacked and captured by rebels and militants the previous day. By all accounts, the two-day fighting left dozens dead on both sides.

On Thursday, March 23, Syrian negotiators returned to Geneva to talk peace and shiny new items – a new constitution, free elections and good governance.

So what can ­ – and will – the West do about it all?

There’s little point imposing a solution, were that even to be possible, considering the regime’s Russian and Iranian sponsors.

The West – in Syria, it is the US, the EU, UK and France – can offer help with reconstruction. Trade and development assistance is the West’s leverage because the Russians and Iranians don’t have the money or the nous to do any of that.

Reading between the lines, it seems, the Syrian question will be settled for a while with Mr Assad at the top of a fragmented country, while local initiatives assisted by western entities help a shattered people to rebuild.