12 December 2014

With the official disinvitation of Iran from Geneva II, the peace conference regarding Syria set to begin this week, proceedings can go forward uninterrupted. Considered a hindrance to the peace process, the UN withdrew Iran’s invitation because Iran refused to agree to Bashar Assad’s removal as an ultimate precondition (specifically including a “transitional” power to supplant Assad until a new government is established.) As the Syrian regime’s largest proxy in the war effort Iran could be expected to maintain this hard line position. Those involved in the Geneva II negotiations figured, then, that Iran’s presence would symbolize anything but peace in Syria.

But, while the UN is issuing loyalty tests to major players involved in the Syrian crisis, perhaps the United States should look inward on its role in the conflict. After all, if Iran can be excused from Geneva II for failing to desire Assad’s exit from power then why is the U.S. going in the first place? Traveling through the recent history of America’s entanglement in Syria can be tricky and confusing, but episodes such as the Iranian peace conference exit add to the journey’s salience.

Most important when considering Iran’s exclusion from Geneva II is America’s position on Syria from the beginning. “Assad must go” was not a line only trumpeted by the likes of Bill Kristol and John McCain. It was President Obama himself who uttered the phrase, and many believed he understood the corollary implications of his words. As early as 2011 the President had affirmed his allegiance with the rebels in Syria and declared the exit of Assad as a priority.

At the time of course the Free Syrian Army enjoyed a bulk of popular support within Syria and rebel forces remained relatively moderate. Relative, that is, to the extremist elements soon to arrive so long as Western aid remained as empty as its rhetoric. After relying on reassurances from the U.S. for months on end, moderate units in opposition to the Assad regime eventually had nowhere else to turn but the Islamist factions just across the Syrian border.

Tens of thousands of deaths later, the red line was crossed. Assad employed chemical warfare against the Syrian population, and the United States was forced to act. Planning to use ‘limited’ air strikes on particular targets, we know how the story unfolded. Between hazy speeches and fumbled press conferences, the President arrived where he began. Assad remained in power and at large while the U.S. did nothing to alter that scenario.

In the meantime, as Syria begins to miss its deadlines dealing with the chemical weapons agreement, Assad continues to terrorize the Syrian citizenry. It is undeniable that Iran has abetted in this regard, and with tremendous glee. Iranian proxies have been fighting alongside Assad from the start, and that should not surprise anyone. Iran did not, however, declare that “Assad must go,” only to ensure that the Syrian people remain in dire straits.

If the UN is serious about reviewing its invitations to Geneva II and believes the invocation of Assad’s ouster is a useful criterion, then the American track record should be explored next.