“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
The drama of the Ukraine Crisis and the Syrian Civil War is monotonous and frustrating. It distracts world leaders from working on their policy priorities and issues like nuclear disarmament, poverty, economic instability, climate change, cyber security, and a myriad of other hurdles to human progress. The truth is that most people would like to avoid all of these problems in order to focus on far more interesting, progress-building subjects like space travel, advances in medicine, and nanotechnology, but the crises before the world today must be addressed before the future can be built.
The Western-Russian conflict, which inspired the Cold War and the Ukraine Crisis, the traditional Chinese-Russian conflict, the Korean War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, the Indian-Chinese-Palestinian conflict, widespread destitution in Africa, globalized terrorism, skyrocketing National Debts, and severe economic disparity are all issues no one wants to hear about. These problems may also be other peoples’ problems, but the nasty thing about these kinds of problems is that they tend to eventually become everyone’s problems when they are ignored. Until these deeply rooted, difficult-to-solve problems can be resolved, the world must focus on dealing with these issues.
The most frustrating thing about the Ukraine Crisis is that it is a war of choice. The Putin Administration likes to claim that the Ukraine Crisis started due to a Western-backed coup against the pro-Russian government. Even if this perspective is somewhat valid, the West did not make the Ukrainian People dissatisfied with their government’s policies nor did the West make Ukrainians angry over Russia’s undue influence in the Ukrainian government. Above all, the West did not force Putin to react to his loss of influence in Ukraine with the use of military force and the theft of Crimea.
As this writer has long said, Russia has legitimate grievances against the West that need resolved and the West has done plenty of things wrong, but Putin’s actions in the Ukraine Crisis and, now, the Syrian Civil War are causing problems for the world.
For Europeans, the Ukraine Crisis is a problem, because Putin’s unwillingness to accept Ukraine’s rejection of Russian political influence and Russia’s willingness to use military force in response to Ukrainians pursuing their interests creates a regional security threat. If Russia is willing to seize the territory of one nation, it is willing to seize the territory of another.
Thanks to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and the threat of the Islamic State, the Syrian Civil War is also a problem for Europeans. Given Russia and the Middle East are responsible for supplying much of the world’s energy, the economic and logistical interests for Europeans are obvious.
Influential nations like the United States, Brazil, India, and China share the same interests as European nations; however, distance diminishes the potential the Ukraine Crisis and the Syrian Civil War will become a problem with these nations. Where Brazil has been far more cordial toward Syrian refugees, the American People and the Obama Administration were extremely reluctant to confront Russia over the Ukraine Crisis and Assad over the Syrian Civil War, which is why the United States has been slow to escalate intervention in either crisis. Given the Great Recession, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War, the American People are extremely wary of being entangled in someone else’s conflict.
Because the world was accustom to the US taking action when there was a problem, the US was eventually force to take the lead in Syria and the Ukraine Crisis in order to prevent an even worse situations from developing as well as for the sake of basic human decency. It was not because the US wanted these conflicts.
Following the Second World War, the United States was more than willing to subsidize world security, because it meant neutering European nations in order to prevent them from sparking new conflicts. It is also the reason why the United States has tended to intervene in conflicts around the world. Americans learned long ago that wars are problems that tend to become problems for the rest of the world. The US has since learned the wrong kind of intervention can make problems worse.
With the rise of the Islamic State, Middle Eastern nations have come to recognize they have a responsibility to provide for their own regional security. Unfortunately, the largely authoritarian governments of the Middle East have failed to recognize the underlining cause of violence and instability in the region.
Where the Arab Spring Revolutions are often blamed for fostering regional violence and instability, the Arab Spring Revolutions happened, because the Peoples of the Middle East could no longer tolerate the failure of their unresponsive, egocentric governments to address their needs. It was the unwillingness of people like Assad to even hear the voices of dissent, as well as his instinct to use violence against those who questioned him, that created room for groups like the Islamic State to flourish.
The Syrian Civil War can only be resolved by addressing the grievances of the Syrian People and by suppressing groups like the Islamic State that undermine the possibility of future peace and stability. Because Bashar Al-Assad has made himself a source of violence, the Syrian People have too many grievances with Assad, and Middle Eastern governments have too many grievances with Assad, he cannot bring peace to Syria or the region.
In terms of threat assessment, the Islamic State is currently the greatest threat to peace and stability in Syria, but the Assad regime is the second greatest threat. Only once these primary threats are neutralized can a strategy that targets weaker extremist groups be constructive in efforts to rebuilt Syria. Killing those fighting these threats, even if they are also threats, is counterproductive at this time.
Consequently, Russia’s efforts to bolster Assad’s forces and his enemies, specifically those who are Western supported, only makes sense if the Putin Administration is trying to use the Syrian Civil War as a proxy war for the continuation of the unresolved Western-Russian conflict. After all, Assad’s toxic reputation and inability to govern means a Russian-brokered removal of Assad would do far more to elevate Russia’s influence in the Muslim world than an effort to save Putin’s ally.
Assuming Russia is successful in its mission to crush all alleged terrorist threats, i.e. Assad’s enemies, Russia will destroy the moderates, but give the extremists a perfect recruiting tool. Initiatives like the Iranian Nuclear Deal will also likely need to be shelved, because the West cannot release billions of dollars to Iran when it is helping Russia in its efforts to target Western-backed forces.
At the moment, the United States is struggling to respond to Russia’s targeting of Western-backed rebels without starting a global war. Recognizing Russia’s intervention in Syria is also an escalation of the Ukraine Crisis and Russia has been using the Ukraine Crisis as an excuse to intimidate Western nations with provocative military displays, Putin’s antagonistic nature is eventually going to force the United States to react, especially if the next US President is a Republican War Hawk like George W. Bush. This would be very dangerous for the entire world.
Instead of standing by as Russia and the United States struggle to pull away from their Cold War past, world powers, especially non-Western world powers, must do more to help check Putin’s antagonistic behavior. China, for example, would be wise to exert its influence on Russia, especially as it deals with increasingly strained relations with a nuclear North Korea trying to gain favoritism with Russia. After all, it may not be long before Russia and North Korea feel the need to antagonize China.
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