17
Jan

By Dominique Moisi

This analysis first appeared in Les Echos

Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Damascus and al-Qaeda’s black flag was recently waving above Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq. Not only has the process of fragmentation in Syria now spilled over to Iraq, but these two realities also share a common cause that could be summarized into a simple phrase: the failure of the West.

The capture, even though temporary, of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi by Sunni militias claiming links to al-Qaeda, is a strong and even humiliating symbol of the failure of the policies the United States carried out in Iraq. A little more than a decade after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime – and after hundreds of thousands of deaths on the Iraqi side and more than 5,000 on the American side – we can only lament a sad conclusion: All that for this!

In Syria, the same admission of failure is emerging. Assad and his loyal allies – Russia and Iran – have actually emerged stronger from their confrontation with the West. Civilian massacres, including with chemical weapons, did not change anything. The regime is holding tight, despite losing control of important parts of its territory, thanks to its allies’ support and, most importantly, the weakness of its opponents and those who support them.

In reality, from the Middle East to Africa, the entire idea of outside intervention is being challenged in a widely post-American region. How and when can one intervene appropriately? At which point does not intervening become, to quote the French diplomat Talleyrand following the assassination of the Duke of Enghien in 1804, “worse than a crime, a mistake?”

When is intervention necessary? “Humanitarian emergency” is a very elastic concept. Is the fate of Syrian civilians less tragic than that of Libyans? Why intervene in Somalia in 1992 and not inSudan? The decision to intervene reveals, in part, selective emotions that can also correspond to certain sensitivities or, in a more mundane way, to certain best interests of the moment.

Intervention becomes more probable when it follows the success of some other action; or, on the contrary, a decision to abstain that led to massacre and remorse. The tragedy of the African Great Lakes in 1994 – not to mention the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995 – certainly contributed to the West’s decision to intervene in Kosovo in 1999. In reality, the intervention of a given country at a given time is typically driven by multiple factors: the existence of an interventionist culture, a sense of urgency, a minimum of empathy towards the country or the cause justifying the intervention, and, of course, the existence of resources that are considered, rightly or wrongly, sufficient and well-adapted. Read more…

 

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