In a United Nations Security Council vote yesterday, Russia and China vetoed the measure that would have strengthened sanctions against Syria, and as a result the UN presence there will probably end soon. It hardly matters, since it was of no utility anyway, but the vote demonstrates that the major powers view the Syrian civil war in completely different terms.
For the United States, the conflict is one between good and evil, the downtrodden and repressed versus the bloodthirsty despot and his henchmen. In our view, this is merely part of rising political expectations all across the Muslim world, and because the aspirations of citizens are inherently superior than the objectives of oligarchs, we support the former unconditionally.
Russia and China don't see it this way at all and have a different objective reality: stability versus Muslim revolution. With the old order dissolving, and with restive and violent Islamic populations inside their own borders, Russia and China view any encouragement of popular uprising as antithetical to their own security. To them, and to many others as well, the West's insistence on republican democracy everywhere and at any cost doesn't make much sense.
Russia and China aren't the only ones who view events in Syria with trepidation. Although Assad is no friend of Israel, his regime's demise will cause Israel real problems. Chief among these involve security along the Golan, and Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons poses a genuine threat if (when?) they fall into the hands of his successors and organizations like Hezbollah. The continuing escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran and its non-state allies complicates the picture tremendously.
Iran's program for nuclear weapons has reached its current stage of development for a number of reasons, but one of them is the insouciance with which we have viewed it for a long time. Although Israel wished to strike one of the three principal sites about 25 years ago, we exerted influence that prevented an attack that would have crippled Iran's nuclear program.
American intelligence information now indicates that Iran has already established an objective of motivating the West to remove sanctions by disrupting the flow of crude oil through the Strait of Hormuz. As a nuisance, this can be effective over the short term, but it is unlikely to have the result that Iran desires. However, because it occurs just at the time that nations in the region are becoming more unstable and bellicose, the area could fall very rapidly into the abyss of horrific conflict.
At this late date, there is little that the United States can do to allay Israel's fears, change the strategic arc of Iran, or stop the turmoil in Syria. But we can learn to do a much better job with our diplomacy. We wear our hearts on our collective sleeve, and that's not a bad thing. But because we procrastinate until it's too late to be effective, and because we are sanctimonious and enjoy the role of being the world's public scold, we unwittingly may be the catalyst for a war that could have been averted a long time ago.
Both candidates are pledging support to our veterans. Here's a comprehensive video for those of us who, from time to time, forget the contribution of the few who serve: