Where Are the Syrian Peacemakers?

DENVER – Much has been said about the similarities between the chaos in Syria and the Balkan wars of the 1990’s. But, while the prolonged killing may indeed be reminiscent, the political and diplomatic effort that finally ended the war in Bosnia is hardly in evidence today.

To date, there has been nothing similar to the Contact Group plan that was hammered out in the summer of 1994 by representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, and implemented the following year in Dayton, Ohio, after months of on-the-scene diplomacy. In Syria, the only diplomatic process is in the hands of the courageous, if beleaguered, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has understood – better than many analysts of this latest international outrage – that any lasting political settlement must not be a triumph of one side or the other.

No one can watch the ongoing violence in Syria without a sense of horror at the armed attacks on largely unarmed civilians, overwhelmingly by groups that support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But those who say that Syria is on the brink of civil war miss what has become more obvious with each passing day: Syria alreadyis in a state of civil war, one whose battle lines were drawn months ago.

On one side is Assad’s minority Alawite tribe, which over the years has attracted secular Sunnis to share in the spoils of a one-party, authoritarian state. But Assad’s coalition is broader than that, which helps to explain how he has been able to hold on to power while other regimes in the region have not. Syria’s Christians, many of its 1.5 million Kurds, and even Damascus-based, secular classes have been disinclined to join what is widely perceived in the country – though not by the rest of the world – as a sectarian Sunni opposition that might not be supportive of cultural pluralism were it to assume power.