Has our approach to action in Syria betrayed the revolution?
In recent weeks, Russia has fulfilled its promise to make use of its military hardware in order to suppress the influence of ISIL in the region. This was a measure that was undertaken on the condition that the Western powers recognised Bashar Al-Assad’s right to lead the Syrian people, and to cease arming and desist from the provision of armaments to rebel groups that are seeking to topple the regime with the aim of toppling the regime there. But this has turned out to be an issue far larger than the Middle East. This could prove to be a pivotal moment in the balance of power held by members of the international community.
Barack Obama has already proclaimed that he does not wish for America and Russia to be drawn into a ‘proxy war’ reminiscent of international relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 20th Century. Few, if any, wish for Many do not want to see a further cooling of relations between the White House and the Kremlin over foreign affairs in such a turbulent region of the world. However, But there is no way that this position is sustainable if the West wishes to remain in control of the international discourse. Russia has drawn blood against the free world, and asserting its increasing influence in countries disenchanted with the methods of the Anglosphere. Both Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron have expressed dedication towards ensuring that tyrannical regimes, such as those of Al-Assad and Colonel Gadhafi in Libya, were replaced with polities that were far closer to the ideal of liberal democracy. David Cameron’s political belief in this was so great that he was willing to propose the possibility of air strikes to a highly sceptical House of Commons and face the subsequent political humiliation of defeat. Now he is being forced to accept once more that democracy and human rights take a back seat in the realpolitik of international relations. With it, the hope of a nation seeking to shed the chains of authoritarian government has waned into insignificance.
That Russia would insist on this condition is no surprise. Historically, the shared dedication to socialism of the Soviet Union and the Arab world meant that Russia was able to exercise great influence amongst leaders whom shared similar worldviews and a disdain for what the capitalist world represented. Indeed, the Ba’ath party banner under which Bashar Al-Assad and Saddam Hussein ruled was founded with the intention to further the class struggle of the working people. Russia has a far weaker dedication to the state of Israel than the United States or the United Kingdom. In political terms, this means that they are better placed to portray themselves as Arab sympathisers who wish to act as a counterbalance to America’s American exceptionalist attitude ism in the region. This serves as a very effective cover for the expansion of the hard and soft power that Russia so cherishes. Since the fall of the USSR, Russia had been viewed as a mere phantom of its former self. In Vladimir Putin, the Russian people now have a leader who is more than willing to oblige the sentiment of a wounded nation rising from the ashes to take its place once more at the table of global powers. A quick mere glance at the tapestry of history will tell you that this is very dangerous indeed. But it is also a danger that the United States is unwilling or, more accurately, unable to do anything about. Twice now have Regions of instability fallen into the Russian sphere of influence, to the dismay of those who preach the inevitability of democracy and popular freedom.
The question is often asked what ought to be done in order to restrict the ambitions of a leader that will seemingly stop at nothing to ensure that Russia enters a new golden age of political influence. It turns out that this is the wrong question to ask. A better question to ask is how an America at risk of permanent decline can engage in meaningful dialogue with the Kremlin to ensure that realistic limitations can be mutually imposed. Britain, as the pre-eminent global soft power, has an important role to play.
Britain must now look east as well as west for political alliances. It is no longer possible to successfully pursue an ideological agenda on the world stage through the use of armed conflict. The Iraq War taught us this lesson. Instead, Britain must show itself to be an inclusive nation that is willing to engage with all on issues of mutual political and economic benefit. Many would find that engagement with nations that fail to respect the right of the individual and the collective to be distasteful at best and outright deplorable at worst. It goes without saying that the conduct of nations such as China and Iran on the issue of human rights leaves much to be desired. But the political class is left with no other option.
Increasingly, nations are flaunting the hierarchical structure of international politics that crystallised in the aftermath of the Second World War. They are likely to pursue a policy regardless of whether it sits well with the traditional superpowers. With direct intervention unequivocally ruled out due to political pressures, Britain and the United States must work with others to ensure that ISIL no longer serves as a real risk to the liberal values that are so cherished. There are no good options when it comes to the Middle East. The best way forward is only the option that will inflict the least damage.