Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Syria’s G-Zero Fate

NEW YORK – The G-20 has concluded its meetings and dinner discussions of what to do about charges that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used poison gas to kill more than 1,400 of his own people. France, Britain, Turkey, and Canada expressed varying degrees of support for US President Barack President Obama’s call for military action, while Russian President Vladimir Putin called US Secretary of State John Kerry a liar and claimed that the evidence against Assad is inconclusive. Russia and China insisted that the US cannot take action without approval from the United Nations Security Council, where they will veto any such move. From the sidelines, the European Union and Pope Francis warned that no “military solution” is possible in Syria.

In other words, it all went exactly as expected. The Americans, French, and others continue to push the Russians to accept that Syria’s government has used chemical weapons; the Russians, anxious to protect their Syrian ally, reject the evidence as inconclusive; and the carnage continues. The focus of the fight now moves to the US Congress, where a rare coalition of liberal Democrats and isolationist Republicans will try to block the president’s plans.

Those who would seek to halt the bloodshed have no good options. That is true for Obama, for Europeans preoccupied with domestic political headaches, and for Arab leaders eager to see Assad’s government collapse but unwilling to say so publicly.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says that his government has new evidence against Assad, while Parliament has voted to withhold support for a military response. France is ready to follow, but not to lead. The Arab League wants the “international community” to end the carnage, but without using force. Obama will ask Congress to approve limited air strikes that may deter the future use of chemical weapons, but will not shift the balance in Syria’s civil war.

Assad, Syrian rebels, Americans, Russians, and Arabs all merit criticism. But finger-pointing misses the point: Syria’s situation is the strongest evidence yet of a new “G-Zero” world order, in which no single power or bloc of powers will accept the costs and risks that accompany global leadership. Even if the US and France struck Damascus, they would not end the conflict in Syria – unlike in the former Yugoslavia, where they halted the Kosovo war by bombing Belgrade – for three reasons.

First, there are too many interested parties with too diverse a range of interests. While bombing would give Assad plenty to think about, it would not force his surrender or encourage his allies to turn against him. Nor would it clarify how to restore stability and build a more stable and prosperous Syria, given the need for cooperation among so many actors with conflicting objectives.

The US and Europe want a Syria that plays a more constructive role in the region. Iran and Russia want to retain their crucial ally. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar want a Syria that keeps Iran at a distance and does not become a source of cross-border militancy. As a result, Syria is most likely to become an arena in which regional powers, with the backing of interested outsiders, compete for leverage.

Second, the US – the one country with the muscle to play a decisive role – will continue to resist deeper involvement. Most Americans say that they want no part of Syria’s pain; they are weary of wars in the Middle East and want their leaders to focus on economic recovery and job creation. Obama will tread carefully as he approaches Congress and, even as his Republican opponents vote to offer limited support, they will make his life as difficult as possible.

Finally, the US cannot count on its allies to help with the heavy lifting. In Libya, it was relatively easy to bomb Muammar el-Qaddafi’s armies as they advanced through open spaces. By contrast, bombing Damascus – which remains a densely populated city, despite the flight of refugees – would undoubtedly kill a significant number of Syrian civilians.

As in the Balkans a generation ago, when Western leaders moved to end the bloodiest European conflict since World War II, the French are ready to send planes and pilots to Syria. But Britain is speaking with more than one voice on the issue. Moreover, most of Europe’s leaders are preoccupied with the domestic fallout of the eurozone’s ongoing struggles. In Germany, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel will avoid unnecessary risks ahead of the upcoming general election.

Likewise, Arab leaders – mindful of the turmoil in Egypt, rising violence in Iraq and Libya, and the threat of social unrest within their own countries – will not openly invite Western powers to bomb a Muslim country. Even Canada will sit this one out.

This G-Zero problem will not last forever. Eventually, the political wildfires that are allowed to burn out of control will threaten enough powerful countries to force a certain level of cooperation. Unfortunately for Syrians, their suffering alone will not be enough.

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  1. CommentedSamantha Fox

    Here's an article from an AP reporter who says Syrian rebels told him it was the rebels who released the dreaded chemicals. And, furthermore, that the Saudis were the ones who gave the rebels the gaseous goods in the first place:
    http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/
    This is sectarian civil war.
    We've no business getting involved at all as it'll only make the vicious cycle even worse leading to more killing fields,
    Just like all other trouble spots (Afghanistan, Egypt, etc.) with many groups (Sunni, Shiite, Al-Queda, Christian, etc.etc.) all unable to live peacefully together, regardless which side you may want to support, the more you get involved, the worse it becomes with intensified violence/killing, regardless which side you may want to support, either one side or the other will blame you.
    The attitude of our leaders is clear: they don't care what the people think, they will be moving ahead with more spending on wars, continuing to worsen the deficit, in the end, only further weaken national finances.
    There're tons of domestic problems (unemployment, debt-ceiling, deficits, sequester, social problems.etc) that US must be focusing & we need all the limited resources to fix all these domestic problems.
    After the illegitimate war in Iraq, the American people are sick & tired of military action in these trouble spots.
    Many rebels are being radicalized by Al Qaeda and U.S. is being goaded into taking the moral high ground, and thereby doing someone else's dirty work
    Stay out of Syria, getting entangled in Syria is a BIG MISTAKE!

  2. Commentedhari naidu

    Syria in its current historical boarders dates back to Roman Times. It even supplied Emperors to Rome and Constantinople....

    So, any attempt to cow (British educated and trained) Assad is a recipe for political disaster not only for West but (may be) also for Moscow. Because (Russian) Lavrov(FM) admitted long ago Assad is not their puppet educated at Lamanov Uni...

    What's required now is not another war of retribution - against Assad's Army - but ways and means to bring some form of order and stabilization in the region. Why?

    The fall or dismemberment of current Syria will come back to haunt the think-tanks in Beltway and their funders.

  3. CommentedKrishnan Unni

    This article is hopelessly one-sided. If Britain, US, France and Germany all have independent evidence of the Syrian government use of chemical weapons against civilians, then why don't they present it to the world? Why do countries which demand that international established law be followed be subject to scrutiny whilst the so-called "moral police" who are hurting to bomb be prodded? This is even more shambolic than 2003, when at least a clearly uncomfortable Colin Powell was walking the world through "evidence" of Iraqi nuclear weapons. And if indeed the US just wanted some place to bomb, then why prolong this charade of international relations? It is also fairly clear that the Syrian civil war is a proxy for much deeper tensions between Iran and the Arab Gulf countries. Ian Bremmer makes G-Zero sound like a bad thing. I for one think it is the best world order - where caution and common sense take precedence over cowboy bravado.

  4. CommentedJose Keselman

    I find the analysis persuasive up until , but not including, the last paragraph. It is way too optimistic. It ignores the zero-sum nature of the multiple conflicts involved. They are just as likely to continue to deteriorate into a regional quasi-war. The principal man in the driver's seat is Assad, and he has proven to be unpredictable The political culture of all the regional actors eschews compromise: all fundamental issues must be resolved by violence. The Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years and they were "lucky" to have Syria to help settle it through overwhelming force. Who will play the "Syrian" role in Syria's?
    The Sunni-Sh'ia dispute is over a thousand years old. It waxes and wanes. Combined with the dispersal of power in the world toward a larger number of state actors and non-state actors the dispute is now in an waxing phase. The outside powers are being stymied by this basic cleavage, which is gradually becoming paramount. Thus the probability of a region-wide conflagration, even if short of conventional war, is rapidly increasing, regardless of what the United States does. I sometimes find many of the arguments about whether to bomb or not an exercise in fantasy: they assume outsiders can identify and successfully apply the right amount of violent degradation to produce the desired result: a weakening of the regime to force it to negotiate, but not regime change. The regional actors collectively have emerged as
    being in the driver's seat. The United States and Russia are deadlocked also because of this. The G-Zero problem can last for a long, long time.

  5. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    It is a very important and very well written article.
    And I think the expression G-Zero might become a new, widely used definition for the new, global humanity.
    This is exactly where we stand today, in a vacuum.
    And for this reason how the Syrian crisis unfolds could have historic and long lasting impact on humanity in general.
    Especially as the G-Zero stand does not only apply to Syria, but basically to every facet of the multi-faceted global crisis, nobody seems to have a solution for.
    And with good reasons.
    We evolved into a global, totally interconnected and interdependent world. In such an integral system simply there cannot exist a "superpower", a "leader", or "global policeman", "East vs West", North vs South", "developed and developing", enemies or allies, etc.
    When the problems are global only a global, mutual cooperation can solve them.
    One things we are already certain about, with our "old school", methods, polarized thinking, making every decision based on subjective self-calculation, making unilateral actions, we dig ourselves deeper into crisis, or military conflict.
    Even the Syrian situation has the potential to fast erupt into a cold-war type of international confrontation, or even military conflict way beyond the Middle East.
    However we detest it we have no other option but to build and maintain a truly functioning global governing body on the ruins of the "failed experiment" called UN.
    It is not going to be easy and we have absolutely no precedent to build on, but the only way out of the crisis and future conflicts is sitting around "round tables", rising above inherent and historic differences, hatred, revenge and start building something new, mutual in between.
    Our survival, existence depends on this, and here and now we have the golden chance to start the process.

  6. Commenteddonna jorgo

    ASSAD is full education patriot for him country .
    so let him find solution (ethnic social problem;s)
    now THE Suez canal is one zone with full income for the countries there ..oil is too
    ASSAD is in difficult situation (because the deal) is not in favor to the American axona
    Russia keep balance (with inererst ofcourse ) but i like the position they keep
    Turkey is (dog of America) yes sir
    A.S have intrest with America they make deal with Obama 17%of oil export
    WTO have to see the problem more seriose (tax) full for all in zone (market )
    FOR ALL
    IN THE END leave the poor people to have home food water (shame )
    military solution is wrong (big dangrues for the borders around ).America have to stop get EVERYTHING.
    UN SOLUTION for the moment .

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