Just when one thought things could not get worse, they do. This seems the rule in today’s crazy, dark, brutal, and complex world we are watching daily on TV and reading in our newspapers. One key example is Syria and the conundrum it presents both for the NATO nations, the United Nations, the Arab World, and in particular for Russia and the United States. In addressing this issue we need to keep our eyes on our larger global goals.
First, let’s be clear, everything is related to everything. Interests, costs, risks, and gains across many sectors are all interconnected and have complicated the decisions by nations, international organizations, and even citizens. In some cases they have paralyzed decisions that need and should be taken and have prevented necessary actions to save thousands of lives.
In America, we are in a quandary regarding what should and can be done to deal with the Syrian civil war – that is what it is now, no pretense please. Clearly all sides know that any outcome will have a profound impact on the entire Middle East and beyond.
There are crazies on the right in America who say they want military action but at the same time they quietly say that they do not support American boots on the ground, an idea which liberals and the Obama administration seem to share. The right talks war but without desire to send our troops or for that matter spend money unless it means cutting programs that support our poor, middle class and sick.
Questions must be raised and then what? Stand aside and just talk? That is a recipe for disaster as the end point is carnage beyond belief. The world’s moral stance of “obligation to protect” will be in tatters and will result in the strengthening of those who have no compulsion to kill massively to stay in power. We have seen too much of that already.
The greatest obstacle to a solution is Russia and with the recent news that it is supplying Syria attack helicopters, perhaps just up-graded and repaired ones, in addition to other arms to kill its people. This may indicate that a solution to the Syrian conflict seems even less attainable. This is the most foolish act by Russia. It has lost most of its credibility in the Suni-Middle East and globally. What was Putin thinking?
The Russians have decided to ally themselves with the worst and/or weakest elements of our world, like Syria, Sudan, Cuba, etc. And in this case, they have unnecessarily created a huge wall of conflict and distrust with the world’s largest economies – namely North America, the EU, and the rest of the advanced countries of the world. These have the most to offer to help Russia become a modern and democratic state. Russia’s economy is small (and very inefficient); what have those authoritarian and backward states to really offer Russia in this modern world? Even China which Russia is trying to ally with, is but a sixth of the size of the EU and the US combined and has many of its own problems including an economic relationship with the US and EU that dwarfs Russia’s. Who is kidding who?
One would hope that this reality would be made explicit in the meeting between Putin and Obama, and perhaps even whispered into Putin’s ear by his own advisers. But the reality is that both sides have a long and complicated agenda. This agenda is key to world security and stability and includes nuclear weapons agreements, Iran, trade, missile defense, Afghanistan, etc. But solving Syria is also key to moving on to a constructive result on these other big issues.
Let’s also be clear that constructive engagement with Russia and support for its people’s democratic aspirations should be front and center on our policy and not the Republican and industrial-military complex’s efforts to create a new “Cold War.”
Even without Russian cooperation on Syria, there are many ways we can influence the outcome but none of them come without risk and much uncertainty of the end result.
Having said all this, I believe that there must be a moment when the international community – in some form – must and will act. Massive killings, day after day, with no end except the ultimate elimination of a whole population is not acceptable in the long run.
It is better to act now – with nearly some 13,000 already likely to have been killed – than wait for this number to double and the possible consequences of the spread of inter-community conflict throughout the Middle East and beyond. We have already seen the horror of Sunni-Shia inter-communal revenge and slaughter in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
For America, many of us have advocated for a coalition of the willing perhaps under the rubric of the “Friends of Syria,” to act to set up safe zones for the population both outside and inside Syria, to apply sanctions and to eventually use armed international peacekeeping troops backed by NATO logistics and intelligence.
Now that the Russians have upped the game with their arms and up-graded helicopters, serious consideration must be given to establishing a “no-fly” zone over Syria. Today’s headlines of the indiscriminate use of these weapons against civilian targets to wipe out any resistance, reinforces the urgency of outside action. There are ways to do this without putting our own planes over Syrian areas controlled by the Assad government.
We welcome your comments!
For more information and quotes on Syria, be sure to check out our 2012 Candidates Quotes on Foreign Policy and Defense!