What is happening in Syria is already a humanitarian catastrophe: millions of refugees, the toll of dead reaching more than one hundred thousand people, and most cynical use of the weapons of mass destruction by Bashar al-Assad’s regime against civilians, everything being likely to go with impunity ending up in what al-Assad overtly considers a cosmetic attack from the USA.
Had all this happened this way two or three decades ago, Assad would have been removed from his office and the regime dismantled immediately, yet for now he is highly likely to secure his office as President of Syria. True, Syria will become something similar to a new Lebanon split and run by warring factions and rogue states, first and foremost Iran and Russia.
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What happened to the world then? This legitimate and logical question comes as an outcry of despair at the meaninglessness and impotence of the United Nations, the European Parliament, and all other seemingly powerful institutions that up to now exercised soft power with relative success.
The lesson number one, then, is that they have all become a naughty joke in the face of a humanitarian disaster. Our global world escaped our global and international institutions whose members increasingly find themselves unable to switch to any concrete action simply to stop mass massacre, torture, relocation, dislocation, and exile of civilians.
After the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (especially in Iraq), the USA, the UK, and Europe are little more than hostages of a morally bankrupt operation undertaken by the most powerful military block in the world without achieving anything and without having a roadmap for similar global and regional conflicts in the future. In a way, even the credibility and reputation of NATO is at stake, as we have yet too prove the aforementioned military missions a success story.
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The good news is that the USA and NATO can overpower and defeat any rogue state and its criminal regime in a position war – on the battleground, so to say. The bad news, however, is that we saw how ludicrous is an attempt to change the mindset of the people overnight creating for them new viable institutions, laws, practices, or, ultimately, even democracy itself. The USA and NATO defeated all their adversaries in military campaigns, yet they failed each time to accomplish the rule of law and the division of powers in the countries where democracy never had a chance to win, not to mention its traditions and any identifiable traces in modern political life.
Therefore, the lesson number two that we can draw from the ongoing tragedy in Syria – especially after the military coup in Egypt – is that the West, if we still favor this Cold War concept, has to admit its inability to export and spread democracy. In the countries with mass illiteracy, deep sectarian animosities, tribal hostilities, endemic corruption, and culture of violence systematically used against women, children, and civilians, democracy can last as long as the military presence of the occupying force and power it exercises over the defeated country. Let’s call s spade a spade.
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Democracy has its chances where civil society is not solely represented by fanatical terrorist groups masquerading as charity organizations – suffices it to recall that Al Qaeda, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood have always been walking in this disguise. Moreover, democracy is merely an empty phrase where the military and secret police run by the folks who have spent some time in the UK, France, or the USA, who are in favor or a secular and ideologically neutral, albeit despotic and undemocratic, state, become the only guarantee of more or less moderate politics.
Democracy has no chances whatsoever where the former revolutionary elite and yesterday’s heroes are unable to hand the legitimate power over to the democratically elected adversaries, and who cannot even imagine themselves otherwise than ruling the country at least for twenty years. There is no democracy where political pluralism is non-existent and where we have merely two or three opposing households or clans or military cliques of religious sects that call themselves political parties. If the collapse of the Arab Spring failed to teach us this lesson, what kind of lesson do we need then?
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And here comes the third and the most unpleasant lesson. The reason why Bashar al-Assad can successfully play with fire is that he knows, as anyone not devoid of the sense of reality does, that although he is already a war criminal worthy of The Hague Tribunal, the USA and NATO keep deceiving ourselves and the world around them repeating how passionately they want to remove him from his office.
To organize a cosmetic attack liquidating part of his chemical weapons or the entire arsenal – yes. To remove him from office forcing him to flee and risking a new islamist regime run by Hezbollah and Iran, and also instructed and supported by Russia – no way. What happened in Egypt and the fate of an old buddy of the USA Hosni Mubarak followed by the collapse of a stable regime and the only chance to restore it by profoundly undemocratic yet moderate and pragmatic forces taught the West a crucial lesson that the theory of lesser evil successfully practiced by the West with the former Soviet Union against Nazism – and justifiably so – will not be lightly dismissed. All enlightened secular dictatorships will flourish after grave mistakes made by the West in Iraq.
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The tragedy of Syria is first and foremost a tragedy of the people displaced, deprived of their home and homeland, killed and gassed in such cynical way that we cannot help ourselves recalling the Nazis. Yet it is also a tragedy of the world that lost vision and resolve to save human lives at the time they are being butchered, instead of safely paying lip-service post factum.