Comment: Meaningless peace talks merely keep the drums of war beating
Published 25/12/2015 | 00:05
Politicians who have to sell themselves to their electorates see peace talks as an inherently good thing. Since most people prefer peace to war, national leaders will promote anything which makes it look as if they are doing their bit.
Those on the ground may beg to differ. Since the latest round of talks to end the war in Syria began in Vienna on October 30, there has been a marked increase in its murderous participants' activities.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed by Russian air strikes - 35 on a single day recently. Dozens of schools and hospitals have been hit.
A Syrian doctor told how his clinic is now forced to operate entirely underground. He said, without a trace of irony, that this was not just because there was more bombing, though there was; but because Russian missiles appeared to be more accurate than regime ones, and so hit medical facilities more regularly.
This period has also seen renewed regime offensives in Aleppo and in the north-eastern outskirts of Damascus.
In the latter case, a particularly heavy bombardment recently by regime forces killed at least 49 people in the suburb of Douma, including a school headmaster and a number of his pupils.
Nor is it just the regime and its allies that have intensified their activities: Britain, of course, has, since Vienna, become the latest of the many countries - almost too many to count - to conduct air strikes in the country.
Saudi Arabia has announced a new coalition of Sunni Muslim nations to fight for their co-religionists' corner, its foreign minister saying he does not rule out Saudi "boots on the ground".
Over the border in south-east Turkey, scores died in recent weeks in a "spillover war" between the government and its Kurdish guerrilla adversaries, the PKK. Turkish forces have also been sent into northern Iraq, to stake Ankara's claim to influence there.
The United States, meanwhile, under the cover of international outrage at Russia's blitz, quietly broadened its definition of a legitimate target to include those operating infrastructure helpful to Isil.
The truckers ferrying oil via its smuggling networks have felt the full force of both American and Russian missiles.
If all this mayhem were a precursor to peace, it might be a price worth paying. Unfortunately, we have been here before, and the chances of peace do not seem any different from then: the UN resolution made no mention of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad and, at the end of the day, this is a war that is all about him.
From the beginning of the conflict, there have been negotiations and ceasefire announcements.
There was the inaugural "Friends of Syria" gathering in Tunis in January 2012, followed by the "Geneva 1" Conference in June of that year and a subsequent ceasefire.
There was "Geneva 2" in January 2014. All were heralded portentously as the beginning of the end.
In each case, more war resulted.
This is no sad coincidence: in a time when even dictatorships have to have good public relations policies, war-war has to be disguised with jaw-jaw.
To cite another over-used aphorism: the Romans said that if you wanted peace, you had to prepare for war. Nowadays, if you want war, you prepare peace talks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)