sochi peace congress
© Sputnik/Mikhail Voskresenskiy
In August of 2011 President Barack Obama announced 'Assad must go'. Almost 7 years later, the Syrian leader is still holding strong. The fact that Assad is still in power is a testament to how much the balance of power has changed in the Middle East (and beyond) in the intervening years.

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East has primarily been the domain of Western powers. From the creation of new nations through French and British imperial mandates, through US-backed covert ops and military interventions from the mid-20th century to today, the Middle East has effectively been held in a state of arrested development for 100 years.

I believe however, that the Syria peace conference held in Sochi, Russia last week, marks a shift in the balance of power towards the region regaining control of its own fate.

With most of the major fighting done, Syrian peace talks have given Iran, Turkey and Russia a significant space within which to conduct meaningful diplomacy. Through coordinated military actions, coordinated ceasefires, and now the coordination of peace conferences, a distinctly anti-hegemonic regional coalition has developed.

For the Western powers of the US, UK, France and Israel, this is a nightmare scenario, and, despite their intentions, it is one that they themselves have brought about. The late Zbigniew Brzezinski must be spinning in his grave. He warned his colleagues, in his book, The Grand Chessboard that:
Potentially the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an "antihegemonic" coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances. It would be reminiscent in scale and scope of the challenge once posed by the Sino-Soviet bloc, though this time China would likely be the leader and Russia the follower. Averting this contingency, however remote it may be, will require a display of U.S. geostrategic skill on the western, eastern, and southern perimeters of Eurasia simultaneously. (p.55)
Sadly, a sufficient 'display of US geostrategic skill' has apparently not been forthcoming, and its lack is nowhere more obvious than in their charade of 'contributing' to the Syrian peace process towards a lasting political settlement.

Stalled Peace Process

Since the Russians intervened in Syria in 2015, large amounts of territory have been won back from the terrorist and rebel groups. And yet one wouldn't know it listening to the demands being made of Damascus. UN talks thus far have come to nothing as the Western powers and the various opposition groups representing Western and regional proxy forces demand a complete re-do of Syria's state structures, including the immediate removal of Assad from power, negotiation terms the Syrian government and all loyal forces to it, understandably, find outrageous.

When Syria looked like it does in the image below from mid-2015, it was perhaps plausible for representatives of the various militias to claim the 'right' to demand what form the country's governing structures should take:

Map area under Syrian government control 2015
But now that the map looks like this, they are forced, thanks to Russia's reconfiguration of 'the facts on the ground', to make concessions:

war map syria
© South Front
In November 2017, after holding a round of meetings with Assad, Trump and Iranian officials, the Russians proposed that a peace congress be held in Sochi to bring together all interested Syrian parties - even the representatives of so-called 'moderates', who are anything but. The Russians stated clearly from the outset that their intention in hosting such an event was not to undermine the existing format of UN-led talks but to 'jump-start' what had become a stalled peace process.

The US and its European allies feared that such a move would sideline them and pave the way for a more equitable political settlement, so while the adults prepared to get down to business, Western leaders, from the sidelines, declared their opinions about what is best for Syria. At the same time, 'someone' tried their level best to sow distrust and disruption among the congress' guarantors (Russia, Turkey, Iran) via psy-ops (the protests in Iran) and dirty tricks (the drone swarm false-flag attack on Russian bases in Syria).

Armchair Geopolitics

On January 17th Rex Tillerson gave a speech at the Hoover Institute in Stanford University in which he reiterated - no doubt spoken with the upcoming Sochi event in mind - the US case for 'political transition' in Syria:
For nearly 50 years, the Syrian people have suffered under the dictatorship of Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar al-Assad. The nature of the Assad regime, like that of its sponsor Iran, is malignant. It has promoted state terror. It has empowered groups that kill American soldiers, such as al-Qaida. It has backed Hizballah and Hamas. And it has violently suppressed political opposition. Bashar al-Assad's grand strategy, to the extent he has one beyond his own survival, includes hosting some of the most radical terrorist elements in the region and using them to destabilize his neighbors. Assad's regime is corrupt, and his methods of governance and economic development have increasingly excluded certain ethnic and religious groups. His human rights record is notorious the world over. [...]
A more classic example of psychopathic projection you will not find: it is, in fact, Tillerson's country that has the "grand strategy to use some of the most radical terrorist elements in the region to destabilize it."

The myth of an 'underlying conflict' between Assad and his people is key to the entire Western narrative. At its foundation is the fact that the Assad family has taken a strong line against (largely US-backed) violent internal opposition since Bashar Assad's father came to power in 1970. As far back as 1957, a report revealed what the CIA and MI6 had lined up for Syria at the time: coups, assassinations, and psy-ops that would frame the country as the "sponsor of plots, sabotage and violence directed against neighbouring governments." The 1957 report also urges:
The plan called for funding of a 'Free Syria Committee', and the arming of "political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities" within Syria. The CIA and MI6 would instigate internal uprisings, for instance by the Druze in the south, help to free political prisoners held in the Mezze prison, and stir up the Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus.
In other words, much of what we have seen take place in Syria since 2011. The reason why there is a 50-year lag between the earlier articulation of this plan and its execution is because Western powers always use the same basic plan. They just didn't get around to 'doing' Syria until other circumstances permitted.

After reciting Western dogma about the case for toppling Assad, Tillerson presented US demands for Syria's future, then finished by saying,
The Trump administration is implementing a new strategy to achieve these end states. This process largely entails increased diplomatic action on the heels of our ongoing military successes. Our diplomatic efforts will be characterized by stabilization initiatives and a new emphasis on the political solution to the Syrian conflict.
The following day, the Pentagon announced its "stabilization initiative" - a 30,000-strong 'border force' of Syrian Kurds, and Turkey responded by preparing to militarily intervene in northern Syria. Against the background of yet another 'maybe' chemical attack incident east of Damascus, and yet another bromide of blaming Russia and Syria for this and all other chemical attacks - past, present and future - the Western powers (and their few remaining regional allies) followed up with their own plan for a political settlement in Syria.

While slandering Russia may have diplomatic appeal in Western capitals, it is an ineffective strategy for subjugating a foe that has the upper-hand in Syria. As Putin recently remarked regarding Washington's inane 'Kremlin Naughty List' of all members of the Russian government, along with all Russians in Forbes' 2017 List of Russian Billionaires, "Dogs bark, but the caravan moves on," meaning that history progresses, no matter what anyone has to say about it.

Sochi Peace Congress

The Sochi peace congress - the first, real, all-Syria peace talk in 7 years - took place, as planned, on Tuesday, 30 January. Because a few invitees refused to attend, Western media ridiculed it as a 'farce' and reiterated their leaders' mantra that the event was meaningless because it didn't take place under UN oversight. However, not only did over 1,500 of the 1,600 Syrian representatives invited to the event participate, but the UN's envoy for the Syrian crisis, Staffan de Mistura, ignored calls for him not to go and was instead present to mediate the event.

The Russians had invited Western powers to participate as observers, but the French, British and American governments sent only 'low-level dignitaries', which apparently enabled them to report to their media that they had shunned Sochi altogether "because the Syrian government is refusing to properly engage with the opposition." This is in fact precisely what - for the first time - took place in Sochi, where representatives of every creed, tribe, trade union, political party, government agency, and civil society organization of any significance in Syria all met in one large conference hall. Here's what Western media did not show you:

Despite lasting just one day, the congress ended with an agreement to establish a 50-member constitutional committee, which will include delegates elected at the forum, as well as representatives of those groups' representatives who did not attend, to draft a new constitution for Syria. "The Congress approved the statement on the foundations and principles of the future national-state structure in Syria. These principles [...] will allow the Syrians themselves to determine their own destiny, without any outside interference," Lavrov told reporters afterwards.

The final communique, read out by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura at the event's conclusion, also listed 12 agreed principles for settling the Syrian crisis, a roadmap "under UN auspices in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254," de Mistura said, meaning that control of the newly-agreed constitution committee was immediately handed to the UN and can in no way be construed as a Russian attempt to co-opt the peace process.

putin erdogan Rouhani

The difference between the UN-mediated peace process before and after this congress - and you can bet that this is why the Western powers shunned the Sochi event - is that now it is Russia, Iran and Turkey who are the guarantors of the peace process, not the US, UK and France, as only the former triumvirate can claim to have the legitimate basis for moving forward because they have broken the deadlock of getting the Syrian government to the negotiation table.

Now that Syrians of all backgrounds are getting down to work on a framework for the country's future state structures, the Western powers, once capable of imposing their political will across the region, have been reduced to whining on the sidelines. Putin and Erdogan, meanwhile, have since expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

Given the illegal US military presence in Syria, this development does not mean that Washington and friends won't get at least a semblance of what they want out of Syria. Perhaps Assad will have to step down, perhaps not. Perhaps a new autonomous Kurdish region will manifest, perhaps not. But the deadlock that was broken in Sochi heralds the end of the war in Syria and is indicative of the regional power transition from West to East.