The news from Syria is bad. It's been bad for a long time, and just keeps getting worse. I fear we're about to witness a complete catastrophe happen before our eyes. I don't think I've got a solution, at least not a good one. I do, however, think the whole situation makes perfect sense...if you look at it objectively
Let's begin back last spring. Almost no one could have predicted that the so-called Arab Spring was about to unfold. To the degree that they ever are...or were, things looked pretty stable around the neighborhood. Yes, there were evil dictators in many countries, and yes, human rights were a joke, but...there was no obvious signs of a gathering storm. Then something happened.
A number of people point to the death of a street vendor in Tunisia as the tipping point, and that's probably as good as any specific event. In fact, however, that was merely a public display of what was going on throughout the region. What was actually happening was a lethal combination of three things: better educated young people, very high unemployment in that same group, and the internet. They came together like the traditional Fire Triangle and the area blew up.
As soon as reality came to Tunisia, others in the neighborhood started asking themselves "Why not us too?" Soon we had Egypt exploding and Libya in turmoil too. Some other places joined the fray and the revolutions quickly jumped the fire lines (national boundaries) and headed everywhere, driven by those lethal winds.
Then came Syria.
Like the others, it started small there, in Homs and a couple other cities. People stopped asking for changes and started demanding them. Like many dictators, Bashar Al Assad wasn't used to seeing public protests, and reacted like all good dictators do: he tried to clamp down.
In truth, he tried a two-track approach, offering to talk about changes while actually doing nothing...and...turning his police and military loose to deal with the miscreants. As things continued to get worse, he made the same offers again, and few were buying any more. More and more, those who might have been willing to talk were silenced, either through death or through an understanding that the offers were just a sham.
Now we've got a real civil war brewing, and al Assad is still attacking his people. He again tried to pawn off the idea of "let's talk" but now nobody is listening...except maybe Russia and China. Most people are asking why, and here's the simple answer.
Let's look at China first. It is, nothing more or less, than a dictatorship. Yes, the next dictator is selected by a group, but they don't consult the people and don't much care what the people think...about anything. Their human rights record is abysmal. They throttle speech, and censor the internet. Heaven help the Chinese citizen who Googles Falun Gong.
It is true that China has some economic interests in Syria, but the truth is more basic than that. China fears that if the UN starts actually acting when this sort of thing happens, they might just try to intervene when something happens in China. Where would the Chinese cabel be if the UN had moved when the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened?
So, China fears establishing a precedent that could easily be used against them. In short, they're just following the playbook you learn in Dictatorship 101.
Russia is slightly different. Really much the same, but a little history is important here.
At the end of World War II, Russia suddenly discovered they had become a World Power. Until that time, Russia had pretty much been a backwater, and nobody paid them much attention. Napoleon tried to take them on, but he had designs on the whole known world, and they were just next in line. There was really nothing there that he wanted beyond domination. Heck, in the early 20th century, even little Japan kicked their butt.
So, Joseph Stalin discovered he really liked being Important, and that continued when Russia...or the Soviet Union...became one of two super-powers. Of course, as we now know, the Soviet Union didn't have the economic engine to power that big thing, and had to rely on the whole eastern bloc to support them. They did, because if they wavered from the chosen path, the Russians drove in their tanks and got them back on track. Hungary in the early 50's, Poland later on, and eventually the whole neighborhood. The world discovered that the Soviet Union was a toothless giant.
However, the current ruler of Russia still remembers those days. Putin enjoyed the power that the KGB had, and would really like to return to the days when the Red Army was feared everywhere. If it weren't for the oil and gas Russia sells, they'd be right back in deep doo-doo.
So, Russia is just like China. They fear that allowing the UN to act might establish a precedent that the UN could use the next time Georgia or some other ethnic neighborhood decides to explore independence. Couple that with the desire to be Big Bad Russia again, and everything they've done makes perfect sense.
In summary, Russia and China aren't going to change, because they don't think it's in their best interests.. They bent a little bit on Libya, and look what happened. They can't allow that idea to suggest their own dissidents might receive help too.
In the end, Syria will be rid of al Assad. How much of the country is left is anybody's guess, and how many people must die to see it happen is a depressingly big number. However, that is how it will end.
In short, the age old question, originally posed by the Third Reich remains: "When is the appropriate time to disregard national sovereignty in favor of human rights?" There's no right answer, but like pornography...we all know it when we see it. Sadly...right now in Syria...we're seeing it!