“Can we overlook their [Britain and France’s] role in the region and their standing in the region? They're hated in the region. They're the former colonial powers, imperialist powers. We want to engage. We should be engaging the European Union as a whole, which has a slant and a point of view, which is not for military action, incidentally.
We should also seek to engage some major Asian powers, who are very dependent on continued flow of oil from the Middle East, and particularly China, which has a veto in the U.N. Security Council. China is not linked at the hip to Russia. China has its own interests, and I think it could be a constructive player.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, September 11th, 2013, PBS News Hour.
I think it is wise to heed Dr. Brzezinski’s advice in regards to our overreliance on Britain and France, which serve as America’s “go to guys” when military action is necessary while leaning on Asia is, of course, critical to the current debate over Syria and our future relationships with both regions. Certainly, all nations have interests in the Middle East thanks to its oil production; however, China’s oil interests are more direct and influential due to its size. Consequently, America should be able to gain China’s support if we can demonstrate a particular course of action will lead to improved regional stability and increased energy security. In turn, they can help pressure the Russians. That said, the US must tread lightly as China will be leery of supporting action, if such action is framed as supporting democratic revolutionary thinking. After all, China is dealing with similar internal tensions that are building.
Russia, on the other hand, has more than just its relationship with Syria at stake as well as its broader interests in the region. There continues to be an adversarial dynamic between Russia and the United States stemming from the Cold War. Consequently, Russia seeks to legitimize its power and world standing, just as America does, by framing US action as less than Russian action, i.e. Russia wants to be the parent scolding the child. In many respects, Russia has managed to temporarily frame potential US action against Syria as an unwarranted act of aggression, even though Assad violated human rights by starting the slaughter of his own people, Russia has been militarily propping up Assad’s government, and Assad used chemical weapons. (This is partially why the US is going along with the idea of a diplomatic approach in regards to Assad relinquishing control over his chemical weapons stockpiles.) Given that Russia will not afford the United States some option to take military action, if Syria fails to live up to its end of the bargain, shows Russia is “slipping back into Cold War thinking,” as Obama would put it. Unfortunately, the weaker nations of Europe and the rest of the world, especially given the memory of America’s frightening, ill-conceived preemptive invasion of Iraq, are extremely sympathetic to a line of reasoning that militarily neuters the US, thus these nations view the need to restrain US military power as a higher priority while budgetary constraints and their pacifists cultures make it easier to support such a course of action.
On the flip side, the United States is not simply trying to address its vital national interests. Americans support doing what they think is the right thing. When the American People make a decision, it is based on how they feel then it is legitimized by making a logical argument about vital national interests and/or some others factors. This is partially why American foreign policy is so erratic. If American’s do not feel something is the right thing to do, the most intelligent, most fact-based, most logical argument in the world will not move the American People to fully support a proposal. If logical argument cannot be found when the American People feel they need to act, inaction will eat at us until we find some way of rationalizing our impulse to take the action we feel is right, which creates problems when we are wrong.
Given our culture’s psychology, Syria presents a problem. Logically, the US should be fine with securing Assad’s chemical weapons and we are, intelligently, weary of war for a multitude of reasons, but we also know what is being done to the Syria People is wrong. Whether a democracy or otherwise, governments should not hurt their People, especially in the way the Assad regime is hurting its People. This is why the US will insist the humanitarian crisis is addressed in the chemical weapons deal while securing these weapons will not be enough. In fact, I think it is fair to say the chemical weapons issue is somewhat superficial when it comes to the decision on whether or not the US will intervene in Syria. (This is not to suggest chemical weapons are trivial, because they truly are a critical issue.) Moreover, unless all sides start recognizing these factors in this latest “diplomatic approach,” it will be a failed solution, just as every other solution will be in the future.
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