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Monday, August 27, 2012

The West Crawling on Syria

Those who laud the efficiency of the market mechanism are particularly wont to point to the slow mechanizations of government machinery. Cautiousness along with a subtle bias in favor of the status quo may be the culprit. For example, after perhaps a year of urgings by Western governments for Assad of Syria to step down, finally a lone governor of a large E.U. state ventured to say that his state would recognize Assad’s opposition as the legitimate government of Syria. “France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government — inclusive and representative — that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria,” Francois Hollande was quoted by news agencies as saying on August 27, 2012 during a speech at the Élysée Palace. “France will recognize the provisional government of Syria once it is formed.” It is perfectly reasonable to ask whether the statement would make any difference in Syria.
Part of the reason why European states formed a union was because a united front would have more power both economically and politically. Were the E.U. Parliament to offer to recognize Assad’s opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, the announcement would have more punch behind it. This is why the American states consolidated their foreign-policy power at the union level. Simply put, the world would be more likely to deem it as important.
Beyond the question of whether the E.U. should take on a greater role in foreign policy (the union does have a foreign minister) is the matter of why Western governments were so reluctant (or slow) to recognize Assad’s opposition as the government of Syria. American officials had stated that Assad had lost the right to rule because his government had turned on so many Syrian civilians in killing them. The recognition of another government is more or less implied. Why not make it official? Why hold on so to the status quo, even after it has been deemed to be illegitimate?  Put another way, why must so many people be killed before even an implied step is taken?
Strategic concerns typically weigh heavily in the formulation of foreign policy. The possible reactions of China and Russia were no doubt salient in the calculations of the foreign policy experts at the time. Even so, it seems that too much cautiousness (i.e., avoiding even a low-probability negative reaction) goes with the calculating orientation itself in the formulation of foreign policy, which can be at the expense of common sense. If Assad was no longer held as the legitimate ruler of Syria, it follows that some other person or group could (and should) be recognized as legitimate. Furthermore, that such recognition would trigger Russian military retaliation should have been regarded as a stretch at best. The result of the excess cautiousness is that Russia and China were essentially able to proclaim the status quo as the default (a default whose legitimacy had been explicitly refuted in the West).
Put another way, the desire not to rock the boat even just a bit by paddling can be self-defeating if the boat is filling up with water. The mechanism by which Western governments formulate and implement foreign policy may be too mired in statecraft at the expense of not only common sense, but also the human rights of a people elsewhere in the world.

Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone, “France Says It Would Recognize Provisional Syrian Government,” The New York Times, August 27, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/world/middleeast/rebels-claim-to-shoot-down-syrian-helicopter.html?_r=1&ref=world