x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Russian option puts focus back on ending war

As the US - and the world - fails to act against Syria, the winner in a protracted civil war will be the jihadis - and they will not remain within Syria's borders.

Ever since chemical weapons were used on Syrian civilians three weeks ago, those advocating a firm response from the international community have been frustrated by public opinion appearing to equate limited military intervention with all-out war.

Now that Russia's proposal to put the Assad regime's stockpile of chemical weapons under the control of international monitors seems likely to avert or at least delay the prospect of a US-led military strike, the situation will probably go back to how it was before August 21: a stalemate that will persist indefinitely.

But while last month's sarin gas attack might end up being just a brief and particularly dark interlude in the overall chronology of Syria's civil war, it is worth taking a moment to consider the issue from the perspective of the disenchanted war-weary public in the West.

Many there see little distinction between an innocent Syrian child killed by sarin gas and their sibling being blown apart by a mortar shell, especially when those attacking them were also Syrian. Why should one kind of death represent a "red line" when no such moral boundary is crossed in any other casualty of the conflict?

There is, however, a clear moral distinction between conventional and chemical weapons. And there is a good reason why the international community was united to ban their use after seeing the effects in action in the First World War. But these constituencies will need to be convinced that their governments are acting in their wider interests when they use soft power - and possibly the threat of hard power - to compel the parties in Syria's civil war to negotiate an end to the conflict.

A quick end to the conflict is in the interests of Syria and the region at large. As we have said on this page before, the main winner in a protracted civil war will be the jihadis - and they will not remain within Syria's borders.

The losers will be ordinary Syrians, such as the generation of children who are now missing out on any kind of formal education.

While Russia's proposal will provide President Barack Obama with a face-saving alternative to the prospect of losing a congressional vote, it also allows the international community to refocus on the main issue: ending the civil war.

The goal of Syrians once again feeling safe in their homeland is something about which everyone can agree.