The Syrian conflict is far from resolved, but with Russia finally stepping in and offering to broker a solution -- something this column has long recommended -- a stand-down now seems increasingly likely. As the world now mulls Russia's proposal for Syria to place its chemical arsenal under international control, what have we really learned so far?
-- We're living in a multipolar world where America is no longer required to take every shot. There's nothing wrong with passing the ball once in a while. It's as though it never crossed the minds of America's leaders that Russia could represent the solution to this crisis, despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been using every possible photo op to demonstrate what an alpha boss he is -- an effort begging for some constructive channeling. Just let the guy take the last-minute shot, OK? Worst-case scenario: You can always grab the rebound if Putin misses. Sometimes giving people an opportunity to prove their value gets you more in return than you expected. In this case, there isn't much to lose by at least offering the benefit of the doubt.
-- Traditional right-left paradigms and binary views of politics are becoming increasingly moot. Not that someone can't hold ideological values (everyone with a brain does), but trying to force-filter every debate or potential solution through an ideological prism creates an added burden that's about as relevant to any pragmatic solutions as the color of the sky. The Syrian conflict has underscored that we're living in a world increasingly divided between those looking to find practical solutions and those more interested in maintaining an "us against them" ideological hard line. As a result, some Obama opponents suddenly found themselves cheering for Putin as the primary opposition to Obama's military action plan. Some unwavering Obama supporters found themselves in the unlikely position of supporting military action. And some of Putin's allies in Russia suddenly found their defense of Putin spilling over into a defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. None of these positions are necessary if one doesn't insist on cannonballing blindly down a slippery ideological slope to avoid any possible nuance.
-- The next phase of this conflict could very well be Russia and the West together against al-Qaeda and radical Islam. Russia and the West have some lingering animosity from the Cold War era, but both are united in their opposition to radical Islam. Syria is currently a nest for extremists, who are variously being supported by the Russian or Western sides. In July, Russia's RIA Novosti state media reported a Syrian opposition commander as saying that Russian ships were transferring Iranian Hezbollah fighters from Beirut to Syria. The West and its Gulf allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been using al-Qaeda as a proxy army. With all the international attention on Syria, extremists don't seem to have much of an appetite for going offside and killing anyone outside of each other -- but no one seems especially concerned about them continuing to off themselves.
-- The cost of war is making for some strange nation-state bedfellows. If America ultimately decides against military action, it wouldn't be inconceivable for France to go in alone, if it saw fit, with the financial backing of the Arab League. (Arab League members Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already funding pro-Western, anti-Assad fighters in Syria.) As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during congressional hearings: "With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assist, the answer is profoundly yes. They have. That offer is on the table."
-- And finally, it's remarkable how quickly a problem that seems so distant can suddenly crash-land on the doorstep of the average American and matter to the point that people care enough to call their elected representatives. Only weeks ago, Syria still seemed a world away. But in a heartbeat, with the chemical attacks that killed 1,400 people, it all became very real, with Congress scrambling to react. In this era of hyperconnectivity, events on the other side of the globe can be just as important as what's happening down the street.