Syria: The end of unrealpolitik

I have just finished reading Frédéric Pichon’s new book on Syria , Une guerre pour rien, which I bought, logically enough, in Beirut. Pichon comes out swinging against some of the inanities of western policy on Syria, but he coins a word I rather like to describe the general attitude of the West to crisis management for the last generation now: iréelpolitik. The politics of unreality, if you like, or in its English form “unrealpolitik”.

The term basically describes the self-deluding and ultimately disastrous approach to crisis resolution that the West (sometimes trading as “the International Community”) has pursued since Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, the in the DRC, Afghanistan, numerous African conflicts, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. It’s the belief in the ease of liberal state building, the creation or encouragement of “moderate” political parties, the choice and defence of “pro-western” leaders and regimes, the rapid introduction of modern western social and economic theories, and not least the complete inability to understand the real causes and stakes in the conflicts. There’s more, of course but that will do for now.

But Syria does not seem to be turning out like that. The solution looks like being built around the re-establishment of the state, if not exactly as it was before. Western NGOs are not packing their bags to go and conduct security sector reform initiatives, western governments have not yet identified their preferred figure for Prime Minister, election consultants have not yet disembarked in Damascus, and the IMF, thankfully, is nowhere to be seen. Indeed, it’s quite likely that post-crisis Syria will be managed by the Russians, the Chinese the Turks and the Iranians, with the “International Community” watching in stunned disbelief from the sidelines.

So there’s still hope.

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