Simply put, the problem is too much talk, too much rhetoric. Let’s go back a few steps. What if president Obama had not tagged Assad’s government illegitimate at the start of the crisis? That would have put the United States and Russia on the same page and there would have been a greater chance to reach a political conclusion in form of reforms and power sharing. But Mr. President was excited about the ‘Arab Spring’ wave, which the West incorrectly interpreted as the rise of democracy in the Middle East. So he simply branded those governments illegitimate as soon as popular uprisings got world attention.
President Obama’s talk worked in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya- places where Russia had no real interests or had dropped them in favour of perceived greater interests. Russia had a weapons trade interest in Libya but abandoned them when Gaddafi needed that link the most. Russia did that in all likelihood to ease relations with the United States. Russia did not however expect the loss it would suffer from doing what it did. It lost over 2 billion U.S dollars weapons trade deal with Libya. That is a loss it is no longer willing to bear. So we see that even though President Obama had tagged Assad, Russia even delivered Syria missiles. That act alone signified that Russia still held a firm interest in Assad’s regime.
So what if Obama had slowed down and asked earlier for reforms? In all likelihood, in the face of recent claims of the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s government Russia may be siding with the United States drive for a reprisal. In this case, President Obama would not be intending to merely punish Assad and not threaten his regime [which sounds awkward itself], instead, he would be pressing for Assad’s outright removal… In all likelihood, if Obama had asked for political reforms in Syria and not a step down, the humanitarian crisis there might not have occured.
One needs only to check the impact of such poor use of diplomacy during the Cold war. Many factional ‘liberation’ movements felt good to go because they perceived and received support in the capitalist West or from the Soviet Union. This caused a proliferation of weapons in those places where proxy wars were fought: Africa, Asia, etc. Of course, such unmonitored flow of weapons inevitably led to some of the worst humanitarian disasters since 1945. Theories of intervention are quite easy to follow if there had not been so much incredible rhetoric and threats on ground.
What’s the way forward? The United States would have to redefine its red line. Clearly, Assad cannot guarantee the safety of his citizens any longer. Even if he did not authorize the use of those chemical weapons, the fact remains that chemical weapons have become a part of the conflict and the government seems to have lost control of its chemical arsenal. If states around the world do not act now to contain this mess, those weapons could easily slip out of Syria’s border and constitue a threat to the whole region, especially western interests. Again, it is clear that Syria is experiencing a humanitarian crisis that may soon take on the nature of genocide. Will the United Nations wait until that happens before it acts?
The situation in Syria has drastically changed from what it used to be two years ago. Response to it must change as well. This time, Assad must go. And so must all the factions wielding weapons. Syria now has to be demilitarized if the chemical weapons mess must be contained. All rides must lay down their weapons and stick to the political option.