Syria: Banking on Geneva
Intervention in Syria is a terrible idea, Ch. 3,815. Plus, no, it's not Spain 1936, either.
You know, I trust, the R2P concept in international affairs--Responsibility to Protect, a doctrine formulated in recent years that calls on nation states to protect its populations from mass atrocities, and that calls on other nations to do so, possibly with military intervention, when a given nation-state has failed to do so. There may be no single person more identified with RsP than Australian politician Gareth Evans, who basically introduced the idea to the world in 2001.
So you'd think that if anyone want the West to intervene in Syria, it might be Evans. But no. He writes in Project Syndicate that that would only make things worse:
Direct military intervention to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would never win Security Council approval, and has no volunteers anyway among capable military powers – albeit in most cases because of the political and military risks involved, rather than the legal indefensibility of acting outside the UN Charter. A less partisan intervention – pouring in troops and airpower to separate the warring parties forcibly – also has no takers, no likely UN authority, and only marginal hope of causing less harm than it would be intended to avoid.
There are many more enthusiasts for a more calibrated military intervention, designed to establish one or more no-fly zones, and maybe safe havens and humanitarian corridors on the ground. In the early days of the crisis, it was argued that, given the strength of the regime’s air defenses and ground forces, even these limited objectives could not be achieved without fighting an all-out war – and thus causing a net increase in human suffering.
With most of the country now ablaze, this argument is less convincing. But it remains the case that there are no obvious takers for a military role, partly because of the scale, difficulty, and risk of the commitment required, and partly because of the likely political and legal costs, given the minimal prospect of Security Council endorsement.
The only real hope, he writes, rests in the upcoming US-Russia talks in Geneva, which will supposedly come off sometime this summer. "Compromise can be anathema for purists," he writes, "but it has always been the stuff of which peace is made. It has never been more necessary than it is now in Syria."
Of course it's pretty hard to see the regime compromising, but other avenues are bleaker still. What isn't helpful is chest-thumping about how Syria is the Spain of our time, which apparently has been going on for a while now on the right but which I just learned about the other day via the Times. Please. Yes, there are similarities between the two civil wars, and you could argue that Britain and France should have helped the Republican side (although who, exactly? The POUM? They were anti-Communist, true, and they have the crucial Orwell seal of approval, so vitally important to today's intellectuals of all stripes, but it's worth keeping in mind that they were Trots, and thus not likely to have loads of admirers in a Tory government like Stanley Baldwin's). The CNT were anarchists.
But the worst thing about these analogies is that they're designed to bring unearned moral clarity to a situation that is anything but morally clear. Yes, Assad's evil is morally clear. But beyond that, what? We have no idea what could happen over there. But neoconservatives want us to ignore this. It would be one thing if their moral-clarity arguments led toward diplomacy every so often, but somehow they always lead to war.