Could it actually be that a conflict that is featured so much in the news and policy journals is growing increasingly irrelevant?
As Syria shows, the answer is yes. It isn’t that the lives are not significant. It is that the players who can make a difference have other preoccupations. Take the U.S. and the EU as examples, for a start. They cared a great deal at first and pushed strongly for a resolution to the conflict. However, Russia’s constant vetoing of any resolution to act on Syria crippled their actions. Yet President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and others continued to push to at least help. But they also rec- ognized that at some point, their efforts became mere news headlines. The conflict has grown so complicated and intertwined that there is not much to do about it except provide human relief without going the route of providing military as- sistance — a plan rejected by many for the dangers it poses years down the road and the future costs the U.S. and allies would incur (read: Afghanistan).
Add to that the recent crisis in Crimea, and suddenly Syria takes the back seat. Not only is it growing irrelevant, but world powers are also realizing that their money and time could be put to better use in a place where the outcome can actually be influenced by what they do. The U.S. is concerned because Putin is on the move. The EU is concerned because Putin is on the move, and he is so close to home that they have to be wor- ried about member states and allies like Poland, Belarus and other places that he might want in his backyard, if he indeed plans to stitch the old Soviet Union together.
There is another reason why Syria is getting less attention from the West. Obama’s strategy of pulling back on the leadership role the U.S. played in the Middle East is being implemented. Early on, he pushed for the “leading from behind” motto, and he still operates within that frame. This frame doesn’t warrant much intervention in the Middle East. It makes sense, too. The conflicts in places like Egypt, Syria and even the diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt on one side and Qatar on the other show that the region is experiencing a truly redefining moment. It could be redefining for the worse or for the better, but it is a process in which the U.S. finds itself sidelined. Therefore, the U.S. recognizes that with so much up in the air, it is forced to confine itself to watching and making headlines.
And in its push for rescuing what can be rescued in Europe, the U.S. has its focus on Russia. Russia, Ukraine and Crimea are all names — synonyms, really — for the new concern in Eastern Europe, and Syria might actually be growing irrelevant.
This post originally appeared in The Oberlin Review.