Take It From Talleyrand: 'It Is Urgent to Wait'

06/06/2012 07:08 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2012
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

I am thinking, of course, of Syria, where the U.S. and the West sit helplessly by while the massacres continue and the Russians refuse to endorse any action against the Bashar al Assad regime in the UN Security Council, all the while deploying an astute propaganda line that the use of [external] force doesn't solve this kind of problem.

But the position of the Russians is not all that comfortable, as with each passing day they lose a grain of credibility in the Sunni Muslim world. Continuing Russian deliveries of arms to the Assad regime which are used to mow down Sunni protesters has not escaped the Muslim world's notice. Sunnis constitute 85 percent of the world's Muslim population and 70-75 percent of the Syrian population. Assad's Alawite Sparta, loosely affiliated with Shi'ism (and therefore Iran) makes up just 12 per cent of the Syrian population, although controlling the military and security services...

The elegant (albeit club-footed) Prince Talleyrand, whom Napoleon once upbraided with the words, "You're nothing but a lot of s--t in a silk stocking," was an astute diplomat, given to changing sides, and generally working for peace, especially with England. It was he who worked out a tolerable peace for France at Vienna, only to have it scrapped by Napoleon's breakout from Elba ending in his final defeat at the hands of the British and the Prussians at Waterloo.

One of the bons mots attributed to Talleyrand's was the phrase, "Il est urgent d'attendre" ("It is urgent to wait"). Perhaps that is what the West should do in Syria, while continuing its remonstrances against the Assad regime in the UN and elsewhere. The Arab Spring, the case of Bahrain apart, represents in part a resurgence of the Sunni world, and perhaps this will emerge finally in Syria, with time.

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