New York - There is a rush of hasty, improvised initiatives addressing the highly important issue of Syria, while the reality is that the majority at the international level is biding its time waiting for the U.S. presidential elections to end. The approaching date of the elections has strengthened the American desire -- on the part of both candidates, Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama -- to keep American politics in a mode of inactivity or deferral.
This does not mean that the end of the electoral process on November 6 will automatically lead to a determined American policy armed with decisive measures. The issue is as much intellectual as it is political. What is constant in terms of the broad lines in the approaches followed by the United States will remain, regardless of whether it is Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney who is sitting in the Oval Office.
At the present time, America is in no hurry to redefine a role for itself that would place it at the forefront of the confrontation. It is comfortable with the period of change in the Arab region, and does not seem terrified at the idea of a clash between Iran and Israel. Rather, it is doing the best it can to avoid being drawn into military action against nuclear sites in Iran.
The leaders of U.S. policy do not interpret the stances taken by Russia and China in a state of panic, but rather reduce Russia's arrogance to the reaction of one who is weak, on the basis of their assessment of the extent to which Moscow's actual influence with the regime in Damascus has waned. They are not worried about the rise of Islamists to power in the places where change has taken place in the Arab region, and give little importance to the scare-mongering about al-Qaeda in Syria. This is what the leaders of broad American policy want to suggest to others. They are in a phase in which they are avoiding getting dragged into anything, without falling victim to this policy of avoidance themselves.
Indeed, for the ruling American institution, which includes the military and the intelligence community, isolationism is out of the question. Rather, it is carving out a strategic presence for the United States in several locations in the Middle East -- and that is what is contributing to inflaming the anger and jealousy of the regime leaders in Russia. Contradictions and ambivalence in the stances taken by the United States and Russia are no lesser than they are in the stances taken by China, the West, the Arabs, Turkey, or even Iran. All are manipulating international laws and customs, to use them either as pretexts or as justifications. Russia and China are clinging to international law in their support of the sovereignty of the regime in Damascus and the sovereignty of the state, and in their insistence on interference in the affairs of other countries being unacceptable, completely and purposely ignoring the fact that international treaties place the issues of preventing massacres, crimes against humanity and war crimes above all other considerations.
Western governments, beginning with the U.S. Administration, seem to be rushing forward while giving human rights principles and personal status issues the backseat to considerations of interests. Turkey has adopted an oscillating policy, at times making half-threats and at others submitting to its fear of the Kurdish element. The Arabs are divided in several directions and at several levels, at times seeming utterly enthusiastic about creating radical change in Syria, and at others submitting to the American electoral season and to what Washington asks of certain regional players. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has come out with the novelty of a regional solution to the issue of Syria, as if he had just invented gunpowder, or as if the Syrian crisis were still in the phase of peaceful protests and demands for reform. The Egyptian President seemed to be improvising when he put forward the idea of a regional solution exclusively in the hands of major countries in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. He put the idea forward as if it had just occurred to him while giving his speech at the Islamic Summit in Mecca, and he has not since put forward any kind of mechanism that would indicate that such an idea has been carefully studied, and is not just the result of hastiness. The Egyptian President, who is of the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps wants Egyptian diplomacy to seem active, vital and pivotal. Yet by putting forward such an unmethodical and hasty proposal, he seemed to be deluding himself about a role for Egypt which it does not have the ability to play at this juncture.
Indeed, Egypt remains in intensive care, and is unable to resume its historical and traditional role, regardless of the extent of national pride the Egyptian President or others might be feeling. Furthermore, it is far too late for an Egyptian regional solution that would exclude the United States or Russia. This is in addition to the fact that relations between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey have reached a new level, the acuteness of which can no longer be resolved within the circle of the four countries suggested by the Egyptian President. Moreover, there are core contradictions and disagreements between the latter -- an example of this being the fact that the Egyptian President demanded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down, while the Iranian leadership considers maintaining Assad and his regime in power to be at the core of Iran's national interest.
Morsi going to Tehran to participate in the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) did not come within the framework of activating his improvised suggestion with measures of implementation, and did not even fall under insisting that Iran's leadership stop lending military and economic support to the regime in Damascus and to the President whom Morsi called on to leave. Perhaps he went to Iran to prove that he was not under the influence of the United States, knowing that the impression that has been deepening among many around the world is that a strong relationship has been forming for a while between the Americans and the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt and elsewhere. Morsi sought to suggest by visiting Tehran that Egypt was an independent state unaffected by American pressures, and that Mohamed Morsi did not yield to pressure from the United States, the West or even other Arabs. The Egyptian President could have sent his Foreign Minister to Tehran. But he chose to do otherwise, thereby purposely contributing to the dose of support for the credibility of the Islamic Republic of Iran as leader of the NAM, and radically contributing to its rehabilitation and to breaking its isolation. To be sure, a President affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt going to the mullahs' Tehran is no ordinary matter. Yet there is a common denominator between the Brotherhood in Egypt and the mullahs in Iran, and that is to appear -- or pretend to be -- opposed to the United States.
The fact of the matter is that they both want a special bilateral relationship with Washington, and seek this through different ways and means. The decision-making circles concerned with American foreign policy seem satisfied with the management of relations with Tehran's mullahs and with polishing relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, wherever it may be. One veteran from these circles believes that the strategic skill of a major power resides in realizing when to benefit from what the winds of change bring. He believes that Russia has lost, because it made of the rise of Islamists to power its own nightmare. He also pointed to the waning of Moscow's means of influence during the period of change in the Arab region, even towards its ally in Damascus. Indeed, Russia refuses to be flexible and to engage the international community because it is unable to actually influence, in practice, the leaders of the regime in Damascus. It therefore prefers to act arrogantly and appear intransigent, rather than to seem cooperative and then find its efforts thwarted, which would reduce it to a weak player with no influence.
This is a striking assessment, whether it is sound and accurate or whether it is aimed at smearing Russia's reputation even more. Clearly, international understandings have reached a cul-de-sac and a climate of Cold War prevails today. Moscow is behaving as if Syria had become a red line, and it is clinging to not allowing interference in internal affairs and to the necessity of respecting sovereignty. Perhaps these two principles are at the core of its immediate preoccupations, because it fears that "its turn may come." Russian President Vladimir Putin is violent in his stances, so much so that some seriously fear the possibility of his taking the risk of military confrontation in the style of what is known as "dogfights" -- i.e. murderous biting without strategy. Such fears emerge when discussing the so-called "Kosovo model" -- i.e. military intervention through the gateway of humanitarian duty and of international treaties that place the responsibility of humanitarian intervention above considerations of sovereignty.
Such a gateway is available only through the Turkish-Syrian border. And such intervention would only be possible in case the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) were to take such a decision, or in case Turkey were to ask for NATO's assistance on the basis of Article 51 of the UN Charter for self-defense. The means and the instruments of the Kosovo model include safe zones, humanitarian corridors, and the imposition of a no-fly zone in support of the logic of humanitarian intervention. Refugees represent a driving force for measures such as these, but there are also other driving forces. Turkey holds the key for enforcing the Kosovo model, but the Turks are frightened and hesitant in their policy of making half-threats, seizing opportunities and besieging Kurdish ambitions -- they also have an overwhelming fear of the citizenship rights of the Kurds.
Moscow behaves with haughtiness and arrogance. It is now demanding an investigation into the "barbaric" acts of violence taking place in Syria, while continuing to provide military assistance to the regime that is committing such barbaric acts of violence. The prolongation of the conflict has reinforced its militarization, just as it has contributed to introducing Muslim extremism as an active factor on the Syrian scene -- and Moscow plays an active role in prolonging the conflict. Perhaps Moscow prefers "Afghanization" to "Kosovization," or perhaps it views both as the same thing. Nonetheless, the armed Syrian opposition provides Moscow with a rich supply of ammunition, as it always publicizes its pictures with slogans that accompany extremist Islamization, every time it carries out a military operation.
Between improvisation and conciliation, the future of Syria wavers, to the tune of hastiness, obstinacy and red lines held by major powers and regional players, all of them positioning themselves on a new regional map, the features of which are not yet complete. So far, no one knows when Syria's torment will end -- after the American elections, at the end of the year, in a few months, before two years? The sole certainty, which in turn is a passing one, is that no qualitative change will take place before these presidential elections.