Not talking about Syria, even when speaking about it
The continuing reaction to the uprisings in Syria, a tragedy for humanity, keep the country a subject of daily global affairs. Actors who are more closely involved in the issue make an effort to keep Syria in their headlines. We are faced with a very interesting and tragic situation. The majority of the actors, particularly those who are closely related to the Syrian crisis, do not really talk about Syria even when they are speaking about Syria.
Russia is at the top of the list of those who do not talk about Syria even when publicly speaking about Syria. This actually has two dimensions for Russia. First of all it is becoming involved in Middle Eastern geopolitics at the cost of the Syrian people’s blood. However, Russia’s Syria policy, which Russia either understands as deep politics or well-planned geopolitical strategy, presents a fundamental problem. Russia is approaching the Syrian crisis taking place in the year 2012 with Cold War geostrategic moves from the 1980s. Reducing the issue to black and white, Russia stands behind a regime it has labeled as an ally, without any consideration of what has happened and continues to happen.
Second, Russia is trying its hand at becoming a global actor by taking advantage of the international system with regard to the crisis in Syria. It is using its unfair veto power — obtained half a century ago in the skewed hierarchical structure of the United Nations, defined by the conditions of World War II — as a weapon. This approach based on the simple mantra of “No work can be done without Russia” does not have a future. It is impossible for Russia to transform into a positive actor as long as it assumes it can become a global actor by using the privileges it obtained in an old world order.
Similarly, when Iran speaks about Syria, it is not really talking about Syria. Syria carries for meanings for Iran. First, Syria, by virtue of being the only country that partnered with Iran in the aftermath of the revolution, is an important ally. Second, it is an instrument Iran can use to become involved in Lebanese politics. Third, this is the type of political action Iran is trapped in by its sectarian politics. And finally, Syria is an effective weapon for Iran to use, not unlike the nuclear issue, to shrug off its political embargo.
Iran, just like Russia, is building its position not on positive but on negative politics. When Russia and Iran speak about Syria, they are not really talking about what is really going on there, they are talking about bad scenarios that may or may not become reality. Instead of acknowledging the blood shed by more than 10,000 people, they are talking about the possibility of future bloodshed and regional crisis.
Russia and Iran are basing their respective stances, which they believe are coherent in themselves, on the building blocks of morals and geopolitics. The vicious killings of thousands of people invalidate their calculations based on morality; and the fact that their approach runs counter to history, when the entire Middle East is moving toward a new era, invalidates their geopolitical calculations.
At this point, it would be difficult for Iran and Russia to build a more positive image than that of the al-Assad regime in the region, even if they were to begin actually talking about Syria when they speaking about Syria, starting tomorrow. In this sense, the question to ask is why Iran and Russia, two countries assumed to have state traditions, would bet the entirety of their Middle Eastern policies on al-Assad’s future. This is the real question for both countries.