The enormous influx of migrants in Europe stems directly from the war in Syria. Nearly half of the country’s 23 million people, as counted in 2011, have been forced from their homes. It is no accident that in the wake of this European crisis we are now seeing an increase in diplomatic activity relating to the Syrian conflict.
Last week, for the first time in ages, Washington and Moscow announced that they had been in touch at the highest level to discuss the conflict. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had a long discussion on Friday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoygu. It is clear that as far as the interminable Syrian drama is concerned, Russia has gained ground during the last few weeks both militarily and diplomatically. Militarily, Russia has undertaken a massive deployment of weapons, munitions, tanks and even prefabricated houses since the middle of summer. This is to enable Bashar Assad’s regime to survive and to counterattack, even though he no longer controls more than a fraction of the “official” Syrian territory.
Russia is, by far, the major foreign power that intervenes most directly in Syria. It loudly and clearly claims solidarity with the Damascus regime. However, this summer, evidence of Russia’s intensified intervention has only provoked feeble protests in Paris, Washington and at the United Nations, where Ban Ki-moon made a statement last Wednesday. This is because France and the United States are increasingly coming around to the idea that the main, if not only, enemy in Syria is Gulf-state supported jihadi terrorism. The Americans have agreed to resume talks with the Russians so that they can coordinate with them in Syria, just at the moment when they are intervening on the ground for Bashar’s benefit as never before. This is a major ideological and diplomatic gain for Moscow.
However, until recently, Western diplomacy, and especially that of the French, officially held to the doctrine of “neither-nor,” supporting neither the Islamic State nor the Damascus regime. But nowadays France is taking its turn launching airstrikes against the desert jihadi despite the questionable results obtained by American bombardments over the last year.
The major nongovernmental organizations which have been monitoring the conflict may well have demonstrated that since 2011, as far as ordinary Syrians are concerned, the Damascus regime has been ten, 20 or 100 times more murderous than the exhibitionist killers of the Islamic State group. But Europe and the West do not see it like this. No, from the point of view of the northern foreigners observing this mess — a point of view that is reinforced by the wave of migrants reaching Europe — it is the fear of Islamic extremism that overrides every other consideration. Their idea is to end this war quickly at all costs; otherwise the number of refugees in Europe will soon reach millions!
The Arab Spring seemed to have demolished the idea, which was popular with Western leaders in the 1990s and 2000s, that secular dictatorships based on militarism and an omnipresent secret police were best placed to limit the power of Islamic radicals. The most often cited example of this is the Tunisian Zine el-Abadine Ben Ali, who was a great friend of the French for two decades. In the early months of 2011, before the people took peacefully to the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and Damascus, people dreamed, perhaps naïvely, of a third way between the plague of [extreme] Islamism and the cholera of militarism. Authors such as Nicolas Hénin, a journalist who escaped the Islamic State group and wrote "Jihad Academy," and Jean-Pierre Filiu, an Arabist academic whose new book is "The Arabs: Their Destiny and Ours," may now have shown that Islamism and militarism are two sides of the same coin. But it won’t help.
Today, the forces of the night have been unleashed and the Arab world is in steep decline. Thanks to the sly maneuvering of Moscow and the resignation of the West, who are in a state of panic before the Arab "hordes," we are reduced to viewing the enforced rehabilitation of Bashar Assad as a source of hope.