One sentence uttered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has set off a flood of commentary, stating that it shows that Russia's position on Syrian President Bashar Assad has reached a "turning point," or has undergone a "change" or a "revolution."
"We are not concerned with who is in power in Syria; our current aim is to bring an end to the violence and loss of life," Lavrov was quoted as saying at a press conference Monday. This is the first time that Russia has expressed a clear position regarding Assad's continued rule. So what?
Does this mean that Russia will now agree to foreign intervention? Will it send weapons to the Syrian opposition, just as it sends to the government? Wasn't it Russia that, just a few days ago, insisted that the UN Security Council's condemnation of the Syrian government for massacring more than 100 people in the town of Houla be non-binding?
Russia, China, the United States, NATO and the European Union are treating the Syria crisis as though it were a domestic matter - at most, a citizens' revolt against their rulers. The attitude seems to be that all we have to do is wait patiently and keep prattling on, since someone has to win eventually. The problem is that the policies of these world leaders reflects what is typically referred to as the position of the "international community" toward crises. They are the ones that set the priorities for these crises and conflicts; they are the ones that shape the map of international intervention and decide how many people must be killed before the "community" blinks an eye.
Most conflicts don't seem to interest the world powers, and millions of people have been killed in the last several decades because the verbiage produced by these guardians was never translated into action. When have you heard about international intervention in Somalia, South Sudan, northeastern Pakistan, Nigeria or southern Thailand?
As a rule, international intervention takes place only when a given conflict threatens the interests of a superpower. One could grumble about the injustice of this, or the selfishness and absence of a single uniform ethical standard for international intervention, but foreign policy has never suffered from an abundance of ethics or compassion.
On rare occasions, ethics and compassion coincide with strategic objectives, but even so, the intervention takes place with the former serving as a righteous cover for realizing the latter. When NATO launched a military campaign in Libya last year, it did so in order to build trust between the Libyan rebels and the West, not to help spread democracy. Similarly, Iraq's Saddam Hussein was toppled not for the sake of democracy, but to settle accounts and attempt to establish a strategic outpost for the West, particularly for the United States, in the Persian Gulf and its oil fields. And the Palestinians could write a whole encyclopedia about how international compassion (in theory ) becomes indifference (in practice ).
Now the Syrians, too, are learning firsthand that the internationalization of their private crisis makes it difficult for world powers to pursue their own policy interests. Lavrov's statement that Russia is not concerned with who is in power also reflects the U.S. policy. In public, Washington continues to talk about removing Assad from power, but it doesn't much care who runs the country. What's important is that someone do so already and that Syria stop shaking up the region.
Israel is already absorbing the Syria lesson. With devastating simplicity, it can be argued that anyone who puts his fate in the hands of a superpower, in the hope that this other country will save one from a nuclear Iran or from any other threat, is betraying his national responsibility. The world's seeming helplessness in addressing the Syrian crisis plays into the hands of those pushing for an Israeli attack on Iran in order to paralyze - even if only temporarily - Tehran's nuclear capabilities.
After all, how is it possible to rely on those powers - the ones playing the role of responsible adult, holding a strategic dialogue with Iran, and announcing that the military option has not been taken off the table - to actually meet their commitments? How can Israel put its existence in the hands of world powers that are not even willing to pay the relatively low price required to help the Syrians seeking their freedom? (This is what those who advocate an attack on Iran may well wonder, and rightly so. )
The argument that the West has refrained from intervening in Syria so as not to set off a violent conflict with Iran, and perhaps also with Russia, is a weighty argument, as is the explanation that military intervention does not assure stability or block hostile elements from taking over the country.
On the other hand, the world powers must seriously consider the influence that their inaction in Syria is having on those who are counting the days until an Israeli attack on Iran. The Syrian threat doesn't just hover over Syrian cities and towns; it is also warming up the engines of Israel's fighter jets.
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