Predictions that may take a generation or more for the Middle East to recover from the turmoil that the Arab Spring are clearly a sobering assessment. But they are hardly surprising given that there has been no significant improvement in people’s living conditions, that political tensions and repression persist and that levels of violence are on the up.
What we see in Syria now illustrates the inability of global leaders to lead and offer strategic vision of engagement with each other that would enable a more constructive and pragmatic approach to problem-solving. Not only does this harm great power interests but with a look at the ever worsening humanitarian crisis in and around Syria it also makes a mockery of the values they purport to defend.
Military action, limited or otherwise, is not the answer to the much more fundamental problems that the region faces and poses. It is likely not even part of that answer. The quicker we move beyond the narrow debate over military responses to a more comprehensive strategy, the better for Syria, the Arab Spring, and ultimately for us.
Within the countries of the Arab Spring, the forces unleashed by the sudden opening of political spaces were largely inexperienced, remain fearful and intolerant of each other, and were easily manipulated in regional and global proxy conflicts.
The key challenge for the rival factions in Egypt is to learn the right lessons from its so-far disastrous post-Mubarak transition and find the courage to right the wrongs committed by both sides.
Western powers can and must play a key role in containing the threat posed by al-Qaeda, if only to to create the space in which local political, religious, civic, and business leaders can eradicate the fertile ground of regime illegitimacy from which al-Qaeda will otherwise, more likely than not, rise and rise again.
The White House announced that the US would start providing military aid to some of the rebel groups, but it remains unclear whether arming rebel groups in Syria will contribute to achieving the stated aims of US and UK policy: to save lives, to pressure the Assad regime to negotiate seriously, and to prevent the growth of extremism and terrorism.
President Obama’s confirmation that the United States would begin arming Syrian rebels has prompted an urgent debate about both the legality and the effectiveness of the decision.
The significance of Syria, from a regional perspective and apart from the worsening humanitarian crisis, is that the intensely bloody conflict there may be a sign of what the region as a whole may yet experience. Syria is a likely catalyst for such a regional escalation and a definite battle field for the proxy wars already happening.