The emergence of an authoritarian superpower, China, which puts wind in the sails of an authoritarian ex-superpower, Russia in matters of foreign affairs, has limited the US’s response to Syria. One of fears likely in the back of everyone’s minds in the US, is that if the US begins pouring weapons into the hands of Syria’s opposition, factories in the Far East will be able to easy churn out weapons for the Syrian regime. Then it’s not so much a tactical battle on the ground but a draining strategic battle of industrial might and will. In an altered geo-political environment (including China growing in the background) there are too many unknowns for US involvement. This, I think, is behind the Obama desire to stay out of the Syrian civil war. Basically, there is no upside for the US, as John Mearsheimer would point out. And Obama understands that in his terms, the US can be stronger, paradoxically, by stepping back from costly shows of force with unclear objectives.
The high-minded piece by FP’s David Rothkopf seems as if it could have been written a decade before. He discusses sending a message to Syria about “norms of international behavior.” But frankly, with China on line and capable of influencing world events, even indirectly through agreement with Russia, the norm of international behavior has lurched unmistakably in Beijing’s direction, and to a lesser extend, Russia’s. In other words, countries whose government’s occasionally massacre their citizens in order keep control over them. That’s why parallels to Kosovo don’t work. In 1999, China was not nearly as
influential and was much more of a bystander.
In no way, do I blame what’s going on in Syrian on China – or Russia. But the backdrop clearly colors the conflict. China does not regard the post-WWII order, led by the US, as legitimate. It can be no surprise that the US has hesitated, while the two countries on the UN Security Council who routinely take Syria’s side, are the two countries that themselves
murdered millions of their own citizens last century. The times are changing. This is the reality that confronts Americans – Obama and Republicans – alike.