This is an important article on the stage we find ourselves in of the Syrian revolution. Russia’s defense to the last of the Assad regime is a significant political reality that points much more deeply to the problem and challenge of global, that is, Security Council consensus on matters of global governance when massive human rights abuses are occurring. We are still at a kind of Cold War impasse when it comes to the spheres of influence of the United States, Europe and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. The United States political narrative on such matters, and in such crunch times, runs something like this:
We the United States stand for human rights and democracy, and Russia and China only care about defending illiberal states and their sovereignty because they know that the increasing power of interference in the abuses inside states is an inherent threat to how they operate inside their own countries.
The Russian narrative runs like this: We are the champions against the hypocrites in the United States who claim to be championing human rights even as they provide all the machinery to keep the Gulf under the exclusive power of Sunni extremists, who by the way foment rebellions all over our border states and regions, not to mention their support for crushing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. And we are sure that their increasing military support for Uzbekistan is due to the stellar human rights record there, not Exxon’s contracts, or the opportunity to invade our geopolitical spheres, as they have done throughout the Cold War. Now they want to crush our ally in Syria. We trained almost all their senior leaders, we have invested in that country for decades, and the West smells blood, actively foments rebellion, in order to destroy our client. They do not care a wit about the human rights abuses surely to come with the reign of the Muslim Brothers. If they want to make Syria a battle ground, then we can play that game also.
Here is my narrative:
The United States and the Western European powers should get off their high horses when it comes to human rights. Their interests have always been economic and spheres of influence and power, systems of enemies and allies. They are every bit as committed to covering up the human rights abuses of their allies as they are to self-righteously exposing the human rights abuses of their adversaries, notably Syria and Iran.
Here is the most important point: It is not helping human rights for there to continue to be a stand-off between United States and Russia on these matters of global governance. We have come very far toward increasing global governance and the rule of law as a human community, but this division of powers and especially the lack of honesty about the real interests at stake, and their cover by the self-righteous language of human rights and democracy, is actually getting many people killed in a number of countries while retarding the growth of human rights and democratic governance.
I heard from one wise political scientist at my university yesterday that what drives so much of Russian foreign policy is its sphere of influence. Correspondingly, I heard a wise comment from another university historian and colleague that there is no greater predictor of the downfall of regimes then the demoralization of its ruling elite. As long as they are not demoralized, as long as they have confidence, millions could die before they give up. That means, in real terms, that the lack of agreement between the U.S. and Russia on what to do with Syria is giving the regime its confidence, its hope and insistence on persisting in the killing spree. With agreement there would be global consensus and the increasing small elite in Damascus would be completely demoralized. This means that human rights is being hurt not helped, paradoxically by the U.S. appealing to human rights, and the ‘voice of the people’ ONLY when it would, in zero-sum terms, increase their sphere of influence, and push back Iran by defeating the Assad regime. In other words, in the name of human rights defense, this is actually a zero sum game of geopolitical struggle, once again between the United States and Russia.
I suggest a third way, for the sake of the Syrian people, and for the sake of the future of global governance that we want to nudge more and more toward rational cooperation, nonviolent integration and power sharing. The focus should not be on the United Nations vote and bullying Russia to buy in, as well as China. The focus should be on the great powers deciding how to divide up the spoils of Syria. I am being serious. What I aM saying is that honest conversations between great powers, a recognition of state and corporate interests, and a proper negotiation over those matters, may significantly increase the chances for human rights, for democracy, for nonviolence in Syria, but also in other countries in conflict right now. If the United States leaders are serious about human rights and democracy then they should actually stop talking about it so much and start doing something about it, and the best thing they can do for human rights is take off their self-righteous language and admit their interests, at the very least in terms of honest conversations and brokering between themselves, the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese, together with the new potential leaders of Syria. In other words, a way to move forward nonviolently to better futures for these countries in dispute is to acknowledge and accept current monopolies or spheres of influence that currently exist. If, for example, Russia’s interests in Syria represent right now a certain portion of the defense business of Syria, then future leaders should be working out with Russia a continuity of commitment. The United States and Europe, if they are serious about human rights and democracy, should be supporting that effort. The same goes for policies in other countries.
The institutions of international struggle for human rights must remain in place, including those at the United Nations. The human rights reports coming out of the State Department are a good contribution. But American leaders must stop brow beating everyone, especially the Russians, with self-righteous language and start bargaining chances on real matters of future governance and transitions of power.
What I am arguing for is a form of emerging global governance that strips away self-righteous language from the negotiating state and focuses on ways to transition societies in peaceful and prosperous and more just directions, without using instability and revolution as an opportunity to shift the balance of power between the major global powers. This must be accomplished by the Security Council members and a shift in their public discourse with each other. We as analysts and activists must take the veil off of self-righteousness in order to induce more great power honest negotiations, and to more aggressively and quickly serve the human rights of populations in conflict zones around the world.© Marc Gopin