With hundreds of thousands of refugees overwhelming countries beginning with Jordan and Lebanon near their homelands, and now including Greece, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, and Germany, the analogy of the kids falling over the waterfall with people rushing to pick them out of the water, while a lone investigator climbs to the top of the waterfall to see why they are falling in comes to mind. The world is one again more focussed on the symptoms of the disease than on the root causes of the sickness. Anyone who puts the issue of 'security' ahead of the issue of compassion and rescuing the stream of people, as Canadian Stephen Harper's government continues to do, is resisting both the issue of the mass migration and the root causes.
The war in Syria, the Assad regime, the cynical opportunism of ISIS, and pitiful support from the west for the Syrian rebels, and now the blatant and opportunistic entry of Russian troops and military supplies including Russian fighter jets into the Syrian conflict in support of Putin's ally, Assad, is the stew in the cauldron boiling over onto the European continent. And just as in Ukraine, the west is apparently suffering from an ambivalence and an uncertainty and a surfeit of anxiety over how to respond. Obama is, as the inheritor of the Bush mess in both Iraq and Afghanistan, very reluctant to pour American troops into another potential quagmire in either Ukraine or Syria/Iraq. Sending bombing missions into the war theater is analogous to a patient suffering from dementia going under the surgeon's scalpel to amputate a limb, in the vain hope that somehow the surgery will distract from the pain of the dementia.
It is not rocket science to observe that, just as in Ukraine, a vacuum of clarity and political potency from the United States, and from NATO brings the cynical and opportunistic Putin in to fill the void. With his allies Iran and Hezbollah Putin is once again striding onto the world stage taking 'two birds with one shot': he raises the profile of a crippled Russia in the world headlines while poking his finger in the eye of the western powers, including Britain, United States, France, Germany and Canada, without demonstrating a 'fig' of concern for the people of either eastern Ukraine or of Syria.
Writing in The Telegraph September 18, 2015, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer puts it this way:
Putin says, settle the war with my client in place -- the Assad regime joined by a few "healthy" opposition forces -- and I solve your refugee nightmare. You almost have to admire the cynicism. After all, what's driving the refugees is the war and what's driving the war is Iran and Russia. They provide the materiel, the funds and now, increasingly, the troops that fuel the fighting. The arsonist plays fireman. (In Syria, Vladimir Putin is the arsonist playing fireman by Charles Krauthammer, in The Telegraph, September 18, 2015)
Cynical political and military intrigue of epic proportions requires considerable insight, linked with significant action that pushes back against such intrigue, if the world is not going to continue to offer opportunities for terrorists to expand their barbarity. Unfortunately, while diplomacy may be burning the lines between the Pentagon and the Kremlin, between both U.S. secretaries of Defence and State and their Russian counterparts, ships are unloading in Syria their Russian cargo and Russian military personnel, defying even the intent of those limp and lethargic, impotent and dramatic phone calls.
While the world's super powers make much of their 'campaign to eradicate ISIS', Putin strikes their hubris in the knees, rendering it almost laughable, notwithstanding the slow drip of headlines reporting 'another ISIS leader taken out'.
Just as the European Union seems paralyzed in its attempt to formulate and then execute a strategy to deal with the mass migration crisis pouring along its rail lines, and over its secondary highways, overflowing its refugee tents, and stretching the search and rescue efforts on its seas, so too the western countries seem incapable of reaching some effective strategy, both in design and in execution, to end the Syrian civil war.
Of course, such complicated scenarios, both the refugee crisis, the Syrian conflict, require the best brains, with the best research and the most creative and courageous recommendations, as well as political operatives prepared to step out of their comfort zone and take those steps that would bring Assad, Putin, and the rebels to a ceasefire. Events on the ground, while generating images of horrific conditions, both in the refugee encampments and in the towns and cities of what was Syria, do not and will not portend the negotiating table. Combatants, by definition, especially unrestricted and unimpeded combatants, seek more combat: it is their raison d'etre, their identity, and their are infused with a passion to fight, to recruit more fighters and to destroy their enemy. Assad has just declared, once again, on Russian television, that only the people of Syria can and will drive him from office. With fewer and fewer Syrians still alive and living in their homeland, soon the prospect of such a political decision will involve only Assad's family voting on the question.
American boots on the ground, accompanied by British and French and German troops on the ground, seems to have been ruled out, the argument for restraint apparently being that the countries indigenous to the Middle East have to solve the problem. And while restraint in the deployment of military power, including soldiers on the ground, has to be commended, as a general principle, and while sanctions are at best a modest instrument to change the minds of political leaders like Assad, Putin and the Ayatollah in Iran, Putin's brash move into the Syrian conflict cannot and must not be considered and met with the same indifference from the world's major powers that followed his takeover in Crimea and military incursion into eastern Ukraine, on the faint pretext that those provinces are still more attached to Russia than to Kiev.
When the arsonist becomes the potential firefighter, we all know that the security and balance and compliance with international law on which the world depends, have broken down and require a sustained and compelling response.
The military bravado that characterizes the Republican debates for the White House is only one overt attempt to fill the vacuum that seems to characterize the establishment silence from the political capitals of the developed world. Painting Obama, just as they did Carter, as weak and therefore incompetent, is a predictable component of such rhetoric. Putin knows that he will not face a military response in either Ukraine or in Syria, from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany or Canada, (although Harper would die for an opportunity to punch above Canada's weight in the middle of an election campaign he seems to be losing).
However, Obama, in not facing another election, and in not seeking to leave the Democratic Party's reputation on national security and in seeking and finding resolution to serious world problems (as he has successfully done with the Iran nuclear negotiations) has more room to move than he would have had in the first term. He needs to meet directly with Putin when he visits the United Nations, and bring the Russian faux-czar to his knees before the knees of the west are broken by this self-appointed tyrant. Permitting Putin along with his henchmen in Hezbollah and Iran to become the leaders in the fight against ISIS is not acceptable. And yet, the evidence of successful attempts to bring down the terrorist cells is still missing. Another vacuum of leadership, strategy, tactics and collaboration.
Too many people are suffering under the oppression of military conflict, starvation, displacement, and the removal of hope from their lives for what end? At some point, just as the image of the little boy dead on the beach in Turkey galvanized the world's opinion into action on refugees, so too, perhaps the image of a Russian fighter jet taking out an American fighter jet over Syria will galvanize world opinion into de-escalating initiatives to bring the temperature of world tensions down below the level of more military action.
One would hope that the mere announcement of Putin's intervention into Syria would galvanize the world into taking action to stop him in this and in any other incursions he may contemplate. And, it would seem that since military action is off the table, and sanctions produce only modest and minimal impact, the world will have to find alternative sticks and carrots to "beat him with".
The arsonist as firefighter is a mixed metaphor "up with which the world cannot put"!