The parable of the chicken and the pig:


In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?


The Chicken is involved. The Pig is committed.

Thus Syria.

The West in general and Europe in particular is somewhere between ‘implicated’ and ‘involved’, if only by being directly confronted with flows of refugees and other disasters. Russia by contrast has spotted its opportunity and decided to commit to achieving the results it wants.

Remember the fiasco that occurred in September 2013 as President Obama retreated from his own red line? Thus:

Yes, they hoot, but surely there have been many other days far worse than this leading to global political disasters?

Maybe. But I can not identify any occasion when the most basic precepts of diplomatic technique were more exposed as simply and drivellingly incompetent. Poor contradictory messaging. Unclear goals. Weak delivery, and lamentable coordination as between key offices. All projecting drift and indecision and generalised gutlessness.

Why is all this happening? Because President Obama himself dithered, between his instinct not to ‘get involved’ in Syria and his sense that he risked looking weak in the face of sustained Syrian regime human rights abuses on a vast scale. Having then specifically identified the use of CW as a ‘red line’, he then had no plan prepared for what should happen when that line were crossed. Worse, he even blathered that the red line was not his but the world’s.

It’s bad enough but perhaps excusable in the ghastly confusion of the Syria conflict to have no clear idea of what to do. It’s professionally unforgiveable to have no idea of what to say.

It simply makes NO SENSE to froth up bloviated comparisons between the actions of the Syrian regime and Munich 1939 or the WW2 Holocaust, and then signal that the USA is going to respond only with “a shot across Assad’s bows” or an “unbelievably small” attack…

Thus we watch uneasily as heavy Russian warships cruise past UK shores en route to blowing up areas of Aleppo. My Telegraph piece today:

Moscow has flipped President Obama’s oft-repeated “Assad must go!” into “actually, Assad will still be around after Obama goes.” Massed Russian warships sail southwards towards Syria for an attempted final blasting of anti-Assad elements and victory (of sorts) for Assad, as presaged by one of the witches in Macbeth:

Her husband’s to Aleppo gone…
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And, like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.

Amazing how one’s O-Level English Lit from 46 years ago invariably helps look at such things.

The grim problem in all this for Western diplomats is that Syria’s President Assad has one of the key precepts of international law firmly on his side, namely Article 51 of the UN Charter:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations…

For many years Syria and its current leaders were more or less respectable members of the international community, to the point of usually being seen as part of a possible solution to Middle East problems rather than any dangerous force for instability. Then along came the Arab Spring. The Assad regime tottered on the brink of collapse. Moscow, like the rest of us, gloomily expected one of its better allies in the region to fall.

Yet somehow Assad survived, allowing Vladimir Putin to weigh in on his side with fast-growing confidence and assertiveness. Imagine what he might say on the matter:

Bashar al-Assad may be, ahem, far from ideal. But he obviously is the only serious contender as the legitimate leader of Syria. And as he has politely asked Russia to help Syria defend itself against all sorts of obnoxious armed factions illegally supported from different parts of the planet, why should we turn him down?

We have international law unambiguously on our side. You?

This is why all the intense diplomatic activity surrounding would-be peace processes in Syria can get nowhere while at least one side thinks that it will do better in any eventual peace process by establishing favourable realities”on the ground” first.

It’s rare if not impossible for any party in a painful complex peace settlement to achieve more at the negotiating table than it wins on the battlefield. Precisely because the time may be coming for the international community to join forces and try seriously to help Syria stop the fighting, the fighting intensifies!

One of the most painful Paradoxes of Diplomacy. The more likely a peace process becomes, the greater the incentive of the people most directly involved to fight to grab territory, therefore making any peace process less likely. See Nagorno-Karabakh passim.

It all boils down to the intangible idea of commitment. President Putin’s navy sails nonchalantly past the UK en route to Aleppo as he has decided to devote serious resources to achieving Russian goals in and around Syria.

The point is not that this Russian military effort is all-powerful or doomed to succeed. Rather it is that the Kremlin is working on the assumption that Washington under current management just does not care enough about Syria (or indeed anything else that much) to make anything like an equivalent commitment.

And, muses Moscow, even if the West does care about Syria, what does the West really want to see happen? Democracy in Syria? Assad to fall? Or an end to Syrian refugees?

If the latter, how about some sort of dirty peace deal that leaves Assadism or even Assad himself in power, and keeps Syria from disintegrating?

And if that’s the best option available, what’s really wrong with Moscow helping crush some of the main resistance to Assadism to focus minds on the realities of the situation?

Not, it seems, much.