For those who miss the comforting certainties of the Cold War, U.S.-Russian animosity over the Syrian tragedy seems a welcome throwback to the era of proxy battles for strategic regions. In this view, there is little point in working with Russia to try to find a political settlement to Syria’s brutal civil war. The so-called “Geneva II” conference is nothing more than a cunning Russian ploy to buy time for Bashar al-Assad to win.
But happily for the world, the Cold War is over. And while a negotiated political settlement is the ideal outcome, the utility of the Geneva process should not be judged solely on those terms. By pushing ahead in a good-faith effort to bring the parties to the table, Geneva also offers the potential to drive a wedge between Russia and Assad. Only in that way will the U.S. secure greater Russian cooperation on Syria. And that cooperation is critical to ending the Syrian tragedy without the much greater bloodshed that would come from Western intervention.
So yes, as so many critics assert, the Geneva process may fail. But the crucial question is how it fails. The U.S. goal must be to create the conditions whereby Assad openly rejects a deal that all other parties, including Russia, endorse.