By Paolo von Schirach
June 17, 2013
WASHINGTON – Let’s leave aside for a moment the awful complexity of the Syrian civil war. It is obvious, as all wise observers are telling us, that there are “no good choices” for the West in this messy affair. Assad is unquestionably the bad guy. However, the opposition is a confusing patchwork of disunited factions: ranging from a few pushing for real democracy, to Islamic fundamentalists and real al Qaeda inspired terrorists. Which is to say that by helping the opposition overthrow Assad the West may be instrumental in getting us another failed state torn by endless internal strife. Worse yet, Washington might become the enabler of another anti-Western Islamic regime. And this outcome may be a lot worse than Assad’s secular autocracy.
Something wrong with this scenario
Still, even though all of this is unfortunately true, if we review the broader scenario, and we look at who has been doing what regarding Syria, something does not add up. If you assumed that the United States is a super power and therefore capable of influencing major international developments like no other state, there is something wrong with a major international crisis in which the US plays essentially no role. By default, US inaction means that the other side has free rein and wins.
America will not lead
Not convinced? Well, here are the basic facts. From the very beginning of the Syrian internal strife the United States piously declared that Washington would act only in concert with the will of the international community, meaning action could take place only with a clear UN Security Council mandate. Simple translation: “We shall not lead. In fact we shall do nothing. As we all know that Russia and China will block any UN action, let it be known to all that Washington will do absolutely nothing”.
As indicated above, there is ground for careful restraint regarding the Syrian mess. But is there ground for a total abdication of US Great Power responsibilities? Is there ground for America to play no role?
Assad counts on Russia, Iran and Hezbollah
Well, it gets worse. As the conflict rages, Assad uses brutal force against his internal enemies. In the meantime, quite openly he gets arms from Iran and from Russia, while his troops are now openly reinforced by Hezbollah militants dispatched to Syria from Lebanon.
In the meantime President Putin of Russia talks about American decline on Russian TV, while now he lectures the West about the legality of Moscow’s help to Assad, the legitimate ruler of Syria. Again, according to Putin, any Western effort to aid the anti-Assad rebels would be illegal. And what is the source of Russia’s bluster?
Do keep in mind that Russia’s economic might yields a per capita GDP on par with Croatia and a couple of notches ahead of Botswana and Gabon. In other words, a diminished Russia today is mostly an irritant. Russia is no longer a global threat. We are no longer in the 1970s.
This is not the menacing Soviet Union that could support with impunity Marxist fighters in Africa with full knowledge that Washington would not risk an escalation that might have led to a World War. This is relatively poor, disorganized and diminished post Soviet Russia. Sure enough, Moscow still has a lot of nuclear weapons. And this means significant leverage. But are you telling me that America and its European NATO Allies, with a combined GDP of well over US $ 30 trillion, are kept in check by this sorry looking Russia?
A New World Order?
And yet this is the situation. Reinforced by Russia, Iran and Iran-armed Hezbollah, Assad is still in power in Damascus. Looking at the situation on the ground, the far weaker rebels have no chance to win militarily. Assad is gaining.
Welcome to the New-New Post-American World Order. America being absent, President Putin, the “Great Defender of International Law”, along with Iran and Hezbollah –the well known defenders of democarcy and human rights– determines the outcome of a major Middle East conflict.