Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Silence; Talk; Action: 3 Responses, All Bad, to the Syrian Revolt

There are three operative approaches to the slaughter in Syria, where a dictator’s army meets a citizens’ uprising with new savagery day after day
notes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune.
Silence: from the Arab world — and jarringly so from Egypt and Tunisia, whose successful revolts built the notion of an Arab Spring and raised the possibility of a wave of democratic solidarity supporting rebellions against despotism in places like Syria.

Talk: a vocabulary full of words about the “inacceptable” and “intolerable” nature of the Syrian regime’s “murderous path” from the United States, France, Britain (and even Germany), but no palpable steps to stop the killing beyond a few very ignorable sanctions.

Action: from Russia, which, as Syria’s main arms supplier, is defending its strategic handhold in the Middle East by opposing or blocking U.N. reports on its ally’s nuclear program and arms deals with Iran, and through a probable veto of a condemnation of Syria if it comes up in the Security Council.

In the absence of an activist position involving Syria’s Arab neighbors, the situation’s external backdrop involves three leaders contemplating the ongoing massacres and calculating how (don’t look shocked) their actions will play out in presidential elections next year.

Barack Obama (in November) and Nicolas Sarkozy (in May) will both seek second terms. Vladimir Putin, the pre-eminent figure in the Russian power structure as prime minister, has an advantage over both democrats: no risk of losing in a presidential election in March if he chooses to run — while stroking a “patriotic” constituency that wants him to demonstrate that the West, particularly America, is in retreat, two-faced and unwilling to help troublemakers challenging established authority.

… Could [Sarkozy] confront the Russians on Syria?

Foreign Minister Alain Juppé has said that if Russia chooses to veto a French-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning Syria (the United States supports it at a distance), “it will be their responsibility.” French presidential politics would then leave Mr. Sarkozy with a hard time not defining that responsibility.

The United States, in a lower octave, and without specifically mentioning Russia, has said through its U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice, that “we will be on the right side of history if it comes to a vote” in the council, and that other countries’ refusal to approve Syria’s censure “will be their responsibility to bear.”

Talking about historical good and evil when it concerns Russia is a novelty for an Obama administration that has characterized the Cold War as a kind of neutral event.

…doing nothing about [the Syrian slaughter], or avoiding focusing on Russia’s responsibility, could well be a re-election campaign liability for both the French and American presidents.

Once Mr. Putin or President Dmitri A. Medvedev emerges as a candidate later this year, how could Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Obama not confront the rigged nature of the Russian presidential election without exposing themselves to accusations of having failed in their judgment of Russia’s capacity for change?