Is the Russian intervention in Syria proving effective? The latest news from the battlefield suggests that the regime, which had seemed to be crumbling, has scored a few successes of late, while at the same time being nowhere near able to neutralise the threat of terrorism in, for example, its stronghold of Tartus. One thing does seem certain, and that total victory for the regime seems as far off as ever.
Why has Mr Putin entered the conflict? The Guardian has a reading of the situation here, which may or may not be correct – it certainly garners the opinions of plenty of well-placed people. Mr Putin certainly is Sphinx-like, rather like Napoleon III before him, who was known as the “Sphinx of the Tuileries”; and just as Napoleon III went to war many times, so has Mr Putin, and I suspect for the same reasons: a foreign adventure goes down well at home. Moreover, a new foreign adventure may serve to distract attention from the last one, which may have been less than successful.
It may be the case that Mr Putin has entered the war in order to guarantee a place at the Peace Conference, whenever that may be, and to have a hand at whatever emerges from the post-Assad rubble. This hardly counts as good news for ordinary Syrians.
Is peace round the corner? The Lebanese conflict lasted 16 years. The Yugoslav wars lasted, with breaks, for eleven years. Compared to these the Syrian conflict has a long way to go. But it is just possible that the regime, if sufficiently bolstered by Russian intervention, may wish to negotiate – but not negotiate peace. What came out of the former Yugoslavia was the Dayton agreement, which essentially froze the conflict in Bosnia. At present the current ceasefire in Ukraine, which is not working, aims to do the same thing – stop fighting along the fronts but not put the country back togther again. Some sort of frozen conflict situation may be possible in Syria, but that would hardly count as peace.
What this means, depressingly, is that there is no happy ending in sight for Syria, just as there has not really been a happy ending for Bosnia. Syria is destined to be a failed state for the lifetime of most people reading this – and the list of failed states in the world is growing. What this leads us to is the “hurricane” that is coming: the tide of refugees who will be heading for Europe, simply because no one in the right mind would want to stay in a place like Syria, or Libya, or Eritrea or Somalia…. the list is long.
The hurricane analogy is used by William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. The statistics about rising population may not be as desperate as he paints, but one thing must be certain: the tide of refugees is only going to increase. Thus the situation is Syria is clearly going to have an impact on britain and on the future of the European Union, whose raison d’etre is being severely tested by the influx of migrants.
If the European Union exists to promote co-operation between the states of Europe, it is clearly not doing a very good job at present, and it will be tested more severely in future. We desperately need a common and coordinated approach. Five years on into the Syrian crisis that seems to be as far away as ever.
This is deeply disappointing, and on a variety of levels. For a start, self-interest seems to make a joint and effective approach necessary. Common humanity does the same – it really is time to stop the killing. America and Europe seem unable to adopt any policy that makes a difference – and the Church, which could have given leadership on this matter, has failed as well. It is simply not good enough to talk about peace – we are all for peace, after all – we need action too. Pressure needs to be brought to bear on the various parties who are fighting their proxy war in Syria, but the Church, like everyone else, has shown no real appetite to play hardball with the Assad regime, or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, or Russia. This, in the end comes from a lack of moral clarity.
St John Paul II uttered strong condemnations of both Gulf Wars – if we had heeded him, we would not be in the mess we are today. A similar condemnation needs to be addressed to the belligerent parties and to those who stand idly by today. But where is the Papal rebuke for Mr Putin or the King of Saudi Arabia, or the regime in Qatar, or Mr Assad? We would love some moral clarity on this issue, and as Catholics, we are accustomed to looking to the Church to deliver it.
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