Max R. Sloane writes from Damascus: Just north of this sad capital Mokhtar Lamani, the deputy to UN Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has finished talking to the Revolutionary Military Council. Mr Lamani has also been over in Yabroud talking to local officials and especially to Christians. These people are not soul mates of the Syrian rebels but they’re telling Lamani that they’re backing the rebellion.
The word a couple of days back was that the Syrian Minister for National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, was ready to meet someone from the rebels to talk about talks about talks. And Moaz al-Khatib, who goes under the title of Chairman of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has already said that he’s willing to talk with Vice-President Farouq al-Sharaa – as long as the Syrians freed more than 150,000 prisoners sympathetic to the rebel cause.
And so these are the ways of bitter enemies reminding us of their self-importance and impossible conditions before the two sides can publicly talk. What’s already going on in back-channels is an entirely different matter. The basic conditions are simple to understand.
Firstly, all the rebels want to rule Syria but not all the rebels want the other rebels to be in on the ruling business. Power sharing is not in the lexicon of this uncompromising blood-letting. Some of the rebels detest (an understatement) other rebel groups. They will kill each other should the time come when the Al Assad Throne falls empty and a leader and faction think the moment is right to seize power.
Secondly, even people in the Syrian administration understand that unless there is an almost miraculous change of fortune, Bashar Al Assad cannot realistically hope to remain in power and the US government has said as much, although how much influence Washington has on what’s going on here is not always clear.
Hillary Clinton’s successor as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, talks on the DC diplomatic route about certain facilities that could be put in place to allow the Al Assads a safe exit. That’s fine, says the Alawite ruling clique, but what happens to the people left behind? The answer to that is that they’ll either end up dead or living outside Syria. If they’re lucky that is.
So, the reason to talk to the rebels is to see what, if any, elements of Assadism can remain without being murdered. The present mood is that no one in the present administration could get life insurance from even the most bucket shop Lebanese broker.
You wouldn’t, from this mess, give Mr Lamani too many options for finding a route through the gore that is this stinking civil war without remembering Chairman Mao’s observation that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Lamani knows that in those circumstances the gun creates orphans of revenge, thus few guarantees of even medium term peace.
Yet, Lamani, a Canadian diplomat, has considerable tenacity and has a few successes on his credit list in the form of local cease-fires. That he’s still in there suggests he has feelers out that tell him that others are willing to deal. But in what currency?
Both sides follow the classical consequence of insurrection. He who is in power must defend his throne. He who rebels must defend his life by remaining in pursuit of that throne. This is known in the unofficial insurrection manual as the counting of shrouds.
These talks are going on because there are those in Al Assad’s House of Cards who understand the shroud count says that very soon it will be time to trade not insults but treacheries.
As was clear at the very start of this two year war, a palace revolution was the most likely solution. But it may have come so late that a struck deal will not stem the blood.