The Syrian Peace talks in Geneva broke down just three days after they started. Personally, I’m not surprised. The amount of hostility between the (roughly) two sides extends beyond the current conflict. To understand why the talks broke down it is important to remember why the conflict is occurring in the first place.
The Syrian Civil War began during the Arab Spring. Originally it was limited to peaceful protests, but from the start the goal has been to remove the Assad family from power and end their many decades of harsh rule. The fighting itself began as a result of the regimes heavy use of force to stop the protests, and as the war has raged on the desire to remove Assad has only grown. So, in sum, the opposition’s desire to remove Assad is not a result of the civil war, but rather the civil war is a result of the opposition’s desire to remove Assad. This distinction is important as it underlines the minimum terms each side is willing to accept. The Assad family has ruled Syria since 1970, and from the start has ruled with an iron fist. The 1982 Hama massacre was a particularly bloody episode for a regime characterized by repression and death. The present civil war was forty years in the making.
The Opposition is willing to accept nothing less than Assad’s removal, and the regime is only willing to accept a resolution if Assad remains in power. If nothing else is agreed upon, these are the minimum terms for each side. At this point however, it is likely the fate of Assad will only be decided through force of arms and continued bloodshed and devastation. The victor will be left with the Herculean task of piecing together whatever is left of Syria.