As the conflict raged, much of the “West” and a large segment of the “Islamic” world appeared to have divergent views on an important issue: What constitutes the “worst case scenario.” For the West, the prospect of the reprehensible terrorist group Daesh establishing a foothold from which it can destabilize the entire Middle East and beyond was simply unacceptable. For many others in the Islamic world, however, the nightmare happened long ago.
I and other analysts cautioned several years ago that given Syria’s religious, sectarian and ethnic cleavages, and the Assad regime’s preference for brutally suppressing the civilian population rather than placating it by accommodating its demands for reform, the turmoil in Syria could have wide ramifications. The conflict had the potential to morph into a protracted war pitting a ruthless dictator against an armed insurrection that could be usurped by a terrorist group such as Daesh. That scenario, unfortunately, has become reality.
The war in Syria has divided the Arab world, inflamed sectarianism across the Islamic world, given birth to Daesh and even turned into a crossroads at which some countries in the West went in apparently opposite directions.
Recently, the US and Russia, supporting different sides, have exchanged public jabs at the United Nations. A joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which began investigating the use of chemical weapons in 2015, will have to stop its work this week after Russia vetoed a US proposal last Thursday — and a prior one on Oct. 24 — that would have extended the work of the investigative body. A Russian-introduced resolution also failed to pass the Security Council, having won only four votes, instead of the required nine. For good measure, Russia vetoed another resolution introduced by Japan on Friday that was seen by supporters of the investigation as a last attempt to salvage it.
In response to Russia’s veto of the US resolution, the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said: “Russia’s actions — today and in recent weeks — have been designed to delay, to distract, and ultimately to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Regardless of what its Russian protectors do here in the Security Council, the Assad regime should be on clear notice: The US does not accept Syria’s use of chemical weapons. We will defend the international standard against chemical weapons use. It would be wise for the Assad regime to heed this warning.”
It is time for the international community to stop scoring points at the UN, recognize the repercussions of the Syrian conflict and make ending it the top priority.
The Russian permanent representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, told the council earlier on Friday that the inquiry could be extended only if “fundamental flaws in its work” were fixed. He argued that for the past two years the investigators had “rubber-stamped baseless accusations against Syria.”
Unless the international community recognizes the repercussions of this conflict and makes ending it its top priority, these fissures will continue to deepen, leaving many relationships in tatters and the international institutions whose task is to maintain peace looking ineffectual.
Faced with such a grim reality, the wide spectrum of players involved in the conflict will continue to resort to violence and to view the conflict through a zero-sum framework that will only add to the suffering of the beleaguered people of Syria.
• Fahad Nazer is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among others. Twitter: @fanazer