Assad has bought himself years of effective non-interference in Syria's domestic affairs, including his ongoing quest to crush his opponents. But this does not presuppose his long-term victory -- the international community's brief romance with Moammar Gaddafi ended swiftly when the Benghazi rebels looked like a sure bet to overthrow his regime.
I have witnessed some of the best minds at Harvard and former top U.S. officials offer conflicting opinions on how to make the best of a very bad situation. But few have talked about how President Obama and Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron are shackled by the follies of George W. Bush and Tony Blair in Iraq that cost needlessly so much blood and treasure.
We can now admit the truth: the Syrian refugees are on their own. So let's stop pretending. The two million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, and some four million remain internally displaced. The numbers are simply staggering -- the largest since the Rwandan crisis of the early 1990s. We shouldn't be surprised. Our belief in politics is at an all-time low, as is voter turnout in many countries. We seem frozen in time when it comes to troubling developments such as climate change or the rapid widening gap between the rich and the poor. Democracy seems incapable at the moment of meeting its most serious challenges.
This week saw Vladimir Putin become a polished New York Times op-ed writer and U.S. President Barack Obama lose what little credibility he had left as a leader on the Syria question. The outcome of all this is not bad in the short term: Those much hyped U.S. military strikes (which the President insisted were kinda crucial but kinda not) are now on the back burner as we wait to see what can be made of the framework reached Saturday by Russia and the U.S. for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons. But this is not a workable long-term solution. Dismantling Assad's entire chemical weapons arsenal will be next to impossible.
People worldwide can be forgiven for their sense of bewilderment at the constant back and forth between military and diplomatic solutions to the crisis in Syria. We've now been at this long enough for commentators to reverse their positions depending on the most recent developments. But there is one group -- a huge one -- for whom none of this really matters: refugees.
Conservatives are telling a skeptical public that Canada won't be significantly involved in any military action. Yet, ten days ago the head of the Canadian military met generals from some of the main countries backing Syria's rebels to discuss the prospects of building an international coalition force. In another sign of Canada's deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict the National Post and Ottawa Sun recently reported that Canada has funnelled $5.3-million to the Syrian rebels' propaganda efforts since April of last year.
If we subscribe to that old Washington truism that all it takes to be a "foreign policy expert" in America is to "enjoy talking about foreign policy," it's striking how little consensus within that class there seems to be on the matter of reigning in the murderous killocracy of President Bashar al-Assad.
The G20 summit this week, and the growing Syrian catastrophe, underscores the reality that we are living in a G-zero world. The bonds that once held nations together have severed, and there is nothing close to an international consensus on any hot-button matter being discussed today. Welcome to the G-Zero world, where we exist in a geopolitical power vacuum as the west declines and emerging nations (China, India) concentrate on their own domestic problems. It may be this way for a long while.
The U.S. military has targets picked out in Syria and President Obama is trying to convince Congress that America needs to intervene. If the U.S. does go ahead with tactical strikes against the Assad regime, oil markets will be caught in the middle. Any significant reduction in exports will be felt in the rest of the world.
Obama's "small footprint" action will, even if authorized by Congress, likely produce no advantageous consequence vis-à-vis American interests in Syria, but could illicit all of the bad consequences that are inevitably associated with acts of war. As the sports types say, he should go big or stay home.
As the debate rages over the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and the possibility of US military intervention in Syria to punish the Assad regime and his Iranian supported Hezbollah fighters for the use of chemical weapons, against ethnic minorities, there exists one thing we can do today to really help.
If there is no outside intervention in Syria, the prospect of a stable Syria coming out of this conflict seems increasingly remote. What may well be the eventual outcome is a fractured country with different Sunni, Alawite, Christian, and Shiite forces creating their own safe havens within the country's borders. We have seen this before, and it rarely ends well.
Prime Minister Harper's stance on Syria seems to be a textbook instance of boring second-fiddleism. Like a good backup musician, the PM's endorsed the idea that "Western military action" should be taken against the blood-and-poison-soaked regime of Bashar al-Assad, which in practice means supporting President Obama's promised plan to bomb select Syrian sites at some uncertain time in the uncertain future. And like a good bore, Harp's also emphasized that said support will entail precisely no Canadian military contribution whatsoever.