Archbishop Mario Zenari, the papal nuncio to Syria, has been nominated a Cardinal by Pope Francis, and as such has received a large amount of press attention. In one of his various interviews, reported here by the excellent Crux website, he reveals something of the Vatican’s approach to the Syrian crisis. The new Cardinal had this to say in September, during the short-lived ceasefire:
“I already witnessed a miracle three years ago, when an American intervention against Assad over the issue of chemical weapons was headed off at the last minute. I don’t see why we couldn’t have another miracle today.”
Readers may remember that three years ago, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would constitute the crossing of a red line and would not be tolerated.
However, the regime did use chemical weapons, and the US failed to act. Of course, what the President actually did say remains controversial but one thing is certain: for a moment it looked as if America would intervene in Syria against the regime; then it became apparent that it would not, and the regime was perceived to have survived the threat, indeed to have gained the assurance that it could act with impunity when it came to using chemical or indeed any other weapons against its own people.
The ‘red line’ incident in the diplomacy surrounding the Syrian civil war was surely a turning point in the conflict, marking as it did America’s failure to intervene, and thus leaving the field open for others to do so, in particular, Mr Putin, who, it seems fair to say, has saved the regime of Mr Assad.
Russian air power and Russian might, along with Russian diplomatic cover, along with help from Hezbollah and Iranian militias, has meant not only that the regime is on the point of snuffing out the last major urban centre of resistance in the country, eastern Aleppo, but is even boasting that it can regain control of the whole country. This remains very doubtful, as the regime’s troops and resources are limited. But one thing is certain: all sides in the civil war have the potential to go on fighting for some time, and none seem to be close to giving up.
Three years ago, if America had intervened, and overthrown the Assad regime, there might have been a chance of bringing the carnage to an end. Without that intervention, eastern Aleppo is now condemned to suffer the same fate as Grozny, once described as the most destroyed place on earth, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it, except lament.
Of course the American intervention might have made things worse, but it was the last chance to stop Assad and his allies, and that last chance has been missed. It remains odd, to my mind, that the new Cardinal describes the failure of the Americans to intervene as “a miracle”. I doubt the people on the ground in Syria see it in the same light.