Over the years of running BoomerCafé.com, we’ve learned a lot about the boomer generation. One common thread among boomers seems to be a desire to know the world in a wider perspective. Today, that knowledge is troublesome because the world seems to be in a mess, more dangerous than ever. We are lucky that BoomerCafé.com co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs spent much of his career reporting news as a foreign correspondent and foreign analyst. He sheds some light on Syria and the current world situation.
By Greg Dobbs
You might be right to wonder, what’s the big deal? The United States and Russia announced (on May 7th) that they are going to work together to try to end the fierce civil war in Syria, which threatens to destabilize the whole region … as if it’s otherwise a wellspring of stability. And as if these two world powers can succeed in the wake of nothing but failures so far. Well, the one thing we can count on is, if we don’t get in the game, we can’t possibly come out with a winner.
The U.S.-Russia plan? It’s hardly novel. The goal is to convene an international conference with the combatants themselves at the table. So if you say “Good luck” in a cynical tone, you might be right. First, because one side or another is likely to refuse to sit at a table and talk with its mortal enemies— and remember, one of the big obstacles is that there are more than just two sides in this war. Second, because if there’s one thing to which no one in Syria has proved responsive, at least to this point, it’s diplomacy.
But this is a big deal anyway, because in this poker game on a global scale, the chips are being bet on a bigger battlefield than Syria. They fall on the fragile and sometimes hostile relationship between the brokers themselves: the U.S. (which half-heartedly supports Syria’s rebels), and Russia (which unsmilingly supports Syria’s President Assad).
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that our friendship these days is just one matchstick warmer than it was in the days of the Cold War. We accuse each other of everything from disrespect to malfeasance to brutality to espionage. They say we’re “Russophobic;” we say they’re “anti-American.”
Maybe we’re both right. But that’s why the outreach is so important. And well-conceived. Because for a change, American foreign policy isn’t premised primarily on providing incentives that we’d want if we were in our counterparts’ shoes; we keep trying that approach and it rarely works. This time, although still in the interest of American national security, it is premised on what the counterpart wants which is, in Russia’s case, respect.
I’ve covered news on that side of the world over a span of 35 years — both when Russia was the hammerhead of the Soviet Empire and since it became independent. Back in the day, when the Soviets spoke, the world trembled. They liked that. They called it respect. What President Putin and his populace want today, even crave, is a place again on the world stage. Respect. Don’t forget, they still have a nuclear arsenal, and some alliances we’d like to alter. They want to be taken seriously once again. They are nationalists; they believe they deserve it.
I’ve seen signs of that when covering a wide spectrum of stories there in just the past few years, from thugs breaking heads to support Putin’s aggressive pro-Russia presidency, to teens promoting the adoption of abandoned orphans to keep them in Russian hands, to the Russian space program, which has an honorable heritage and, ever since the latter part of the Cold War, a record of cooperation with ours. Although such stories are vastly different in theme, they’re all about nationalism.
Maybe something will come of this new joint effort to finally get the combatants in Syria to talk about ending the war. Maybe not. But at least if the U.S. and Russia follow through on their intent to work together diplomatically on a big issue for the first time in a long time, then there will be benefits, even if ultimately they’re not felt in Syria. Maybe Russia will see the value of a global partnership between two great powers, rather than reflexively and nationalistically opposing much of what we set out to do to build a better world, or at least to avert a worse one.
Then again, since it’s still a game of poker, maybe not.