“You’ve got to fake it till you make it!” Long the refrain of aspiring actors and entrepreneurs who have to pretend to be famous or rich well before they are either, this might also be a good motto for international peacemakers grappling with the Syrian war.
This week, diplomats and United Nations officials are supposed to gather in Geneva for talks between the Syrian government and a cluster of opposition groups. It is still not absolutely clear when the conclave will begin. It was meant to start today. Now it looks like it might be Wednesday or later. The meeting already has all the hallmarks of a major flop. The Syrian regime has said that it will make no concessions, while rebel groups have blamed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow for the failure of the talks before they have even convened. There has been an open diplomatic brawl involving Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey over which opposition groups will attend. Nonetheless U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has continued to lobby hard to make the gathering happen.
Why persevere with a meeting that is imploding? It is arguable that canceling the talks now would convince all sides that there is simply no other alternative to fighting on in their bloody standoff. Nixing the talks might also be a fillip to the Islamic State’s morale, by showing how divided its enemies remain. But it is equally arguable that maintaining the pretense of a peace process signals to other bad actors, above all the Syrian government, that they face no serious penalties for continued violence and diplomatic obduracy. No matter how badly you undermine our peace talks, the international community seems to be saying, we’ll still invite you back for more.