DENVER – As Russian and American diplomats prepare for a Syrian peace conference, the Middle East is experiencing convulsions not seen since the Arab Spring two years ago. Syria, which at first seemed to be just another instance of internal change, has spawned a civil war that has spread beyond the country’s borders, affecting all of its neighbors. In historical terms, the Syrian crisis, not the Arab Spring, will most likely be regarded as the Middle East’s seminal event in this decade – and the crucible of the region’s future.
The dimensions of the crisis demand focus, wisdom, and leadership from all parties, especially the United States. Managing the historical forces that are being released requires going far beyond the desultory US debate about what kind of assistance to give to which participants in the conflict.