Once Upon a Time There Was the Western Bloc

Fissures. The Western bloc is not what it used to be. Every day, it erodes a little more. Smaller formations come together around different issues, but always with the same common position. The last issue to bring these Western differences to light is that of Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry caught everyone off guard last Sunday when he announced his country’s intention to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad. That was all it took for French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to get all worked up and cry treason. For a while, they scolded Kerry. If only the United States wasn’t a much more superior power than all European nations put together. Regardless, they still mumbled that it was out of the question to consider “a political solution while Bashar Assad stays and John Kerry knows it [sic],” Valls declared last Monday on the set of Canal+. He couldn’t hold back the way he did after a group of French parliamentarians visited Syria a few days ago, where they were received by Bashar Assad. The initiative was strongly criticized by other French media outlets.

With less posturing, British Prime Minister David Cameron, joined his French counterpart in his American “opposition.” For good reason. In August 2012, although the adoption of a “Libya-like” resolution on Syria was definitively blocked in the Security Council by Russia and China, the Franco-British alliance nevertheless threatened military intervention in Syria — without anyone’s approval. All the same, this fearmongering game would last a year until August 2013, when the British Parliament denied Cameron the authority to intervene militarily in Syria. The U.S. Congress followed suit shortly after. Left alone, France lowered its voice.

That was the “frustration” that exploded after Kerry’s remarks on the legitimacy of the Syrian head of state. The French argument is shaky. Fabius claims that he does not question Syrian institutions, but he doesn’t want Bashar Assad as head of state. Democracy and the will of the Syrian people are not his concerns. It’s the same story in London, for whom “Assad has no place in Syria’s future.” The American response was very subtle. Kerry clarified his thinking after the Franco-British outcry by reassuring, “It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate.”

As with Iran, it is never the heads of state sitting at the negotiating table. They send their representatives, that is, their institutions. Thus, there is something for everyone. However, beyond this kind of ineffectual stand-ins, the core of the problem is the dislocation of the Western front on the management of major conflicts in the world. This can be seen notably in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the existence of two nations (Palestine and Israel) is advocated by the United States and a majority of European countries — until we get to the U.S. Congress, part of which, among Republicans, opposes the White House. We also see this in Iranian nuclear negotiations, which started multilaterally but continue solely between the United States and Iran. Europe is no longer at the table.

The other large fissure is America’s current refusal to participate in military ground operations abroad. Added to the Russo-Chinese lock-up of the Security Council, all of this has contributed to blowing apart the Western bloc. A new world stage is being put in place. The only thing missing is agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue — at the end of this month!

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