Why the West must abandon its illusions on Syria

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 29, 2019

Former NATO secretary general Javier Solana has hurled what can only be called a truth bomb at western illusions on Syria.

“The West must pierce its illusions and sit down to negotiate more seriously – and at all levels – about Syria,” Mr Solana has said in a hard-hitting piece for Project Syndicate.

Illusions of what exactly? That of being incorruptible and just, selflessly humanitarian, and always in the right, perhaps? That of disguising its own interests as a compassionate do-gooder instinct to save and provide succour?

Mr Solana says as much in his stern commentary. “The course of the war in Syria has been shaped by the geopolitical interests of the major international powers,” he writes. “Any semblance of humanitarianism has been limited to relatively minor and fairly unproductive resolutions, specific agreements such as that concluded by the United States and Russia to destroy the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons, and questionable bombings intended to punish flagrant violations of the latter agreement.”

Indeed, the way the Syrian crisis has been handled illustrates the depth and persistence of western illusions. As Mr Solana correctly diagnoses, Syria was always mishandled because of “profound divisions in the United Nations Security Council” and these were, largely on account of NATO’s UNSC-authorised military intervention in Libya, with Russia and China abstaining. The Libyan adventure began just when hostilities in Syria were starting up. And when the “intervention in Libya exceeded its humanitarian mandate and became fixated on removing the country’s leader”, it further convinced the Russians and Chinese they were right to be suspicious of intervention in the name of the “responsibility to protect”. That was the doctrine invoked in response to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Al Gaddafi’s excesses.

All in all, the western response to Syria has been befuddled and befuddling, self-serving and sanctimonious, and uncaring of the humanitarian consequences.

But now that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is all but certain to have a role to play in his country’s immediate future, the West must abandon its illusions, argues Mr Solana. It must acknowledge reality, abandon its objective of regime change, and commit to serious negotiations.