International politics is even more complicated to understand and difficult to predict than domestic politics, and things can sometimes take a surprising turn. But although hard to foresee, one can sometimes look back and see significant evens that set in motion a chain of occurrences.
In the case of Syria, it was less than a month ago when president Obama’s belligerent ‘red line’ comment seemed to be drawing the US into bombing Syria, risking increased involvement in its terrible civil war on the side of the anti-Assad forces, some of whom are Islamic militants who are actually allied with al Qaeda and thus supposedly enemies of the US. Even worse, the proposed US action seemed to be setting the stage for future war with Iran. The only groups that thought this was a good thing were the perpetual warmongers: the neoconservatives, the liberal war hawks, Israel and its US lobby, and the crazy Christian evangelicals eagerly awaiting Armageddon.
But something strange happened and now not only has a deal been reached that has a good chance of allowing for the peaceful removal of chemical weapons from Syria (at least on the part of its government) but there has been somewhat of a rapprochement between the US and Iran, with president Obama and the Iranian president exchanging seemingly cordial letters and the Syrian foreign minister having an extended meeting with US secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. And just yesterday we are informed that Obama and president Rouhani spoke directly to each other by phone. Can it be long before they become Facebook friends?
So what happened? How did peace moves suddenly break out?
Looking back, some of the credit should be given to the leader of Britain’s Labour Party Ed Miliband. I don’t know much about his politics. Ever since the despicable Tony Blair took the party that once represented the working class into its neoliberal ‘New Labour’ form, it has increasingly become pro-war, pro-oligarchy, and subservient to the US. So when Conservative British prime minister David Cameron called for a parliamentary vote to authorize an attack on Syria, I expected the Labour party, apart from its more militant backbenchers like the great Glenda Jackson, to acquiesce, while mouthing the usual hypocritical caveats.
But the decision of Miliband to oppose the war resolution and its resultant surprising defeat in parliament took the wind out of the sails of the warships. Deprived of his usually compliant UK ally, Obama was forced to seek support for his plans in the US Congress, just like the French president felt obliged to throw the issue to his parliament too. But emboldened by the British parliament’s move, the US Congress also seemed to be balking at allowing Obama to start yet another war and the stage seemed set for an embarrassing defeat for him.
Then steps in the other unlikely person who should also get credit for shifting the drift from war to peace, and that was the anonymous reporter who asked John Kerry in London what it would take for the US to not bomb Syria. Kerry’s dismissive and sarcastic reply to her was then seized upon by Russia and Syria as if it were a genuine offer that they were willing to work with, and Obama must have realized that it provided a good escape hatch to get out from the corner he had painted himself into.
Of course, there will be those who are dismayed that their plans for further glorious wars are becoming unraveled and we can expect them to try to drive new wedges between the US, Russia, Iran, and Syria.
But the drive for war with Syria has definitely run out of momentum and I cannot see it being easily revved up again. When people see that diplomacy can get results, however imperfect, their enthusiasm for war disappears.