That the first round of talks in Geneva in the last week of January achieved nothing as Mr Brahimi admitted, is not a surprise. But is there a strategy? For there to be one, it must connect the political negotiations to action on the ground. A coherent strategy should have been adopted months ago when the dynamics on the ground would have allowed the democratic elements of the armed rebellion to prevent the radicalization of significant part of the rebellion. But Syrian democrats haven't disappeared. Army defectors, first day revolutionaries, and pro-democracy FSA brigades have not only proved to be pragmatic in understanding the need for a political transition to end the crisis but also showed to be surprisingly efficient in fighting extremists groups that the media presented as invincible.
By sub-contracting military and financial support to regional powers and private donors, the West let Salafi beneficiaries of this aid take a prominent role in the Syrian armed rebellion. But military successes of Islamist groups cannot be converted into political gains, simply because a sectarian dictatorship cannot be successfully fought with a sectarian discourse. An effective strategy for Western governments should have (and now still can start by) re-asserted the dual objective of inflicting decisive losses on the regime in the battlefield and ensuring that the winners will rebuild a united Syria for all the components of its society. This requires investing in a propaganda war to counter the regime's fallacies, and empowering carefully vetted groups who have the potential to grow rapidly and to spearhead a movement to correct the balance of forces among groups within the overall rebellion.
The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.