Under our theory of the Syria Crisis as a system crisis, the so-called Russian initiative points to the potential removal of a key, rarely recognized element of the actual case for intervention (and prior case for non-intervention): the element of impermissible defiance of the hegemon, which was absent until “movement on the chemical weapons front” forced a change in President Obama’s “equation.”
Put starkly, as far as the neo-imperial interest is concerned, tyranny on the part of (qualifiedly) sovereign states1 will generally be tolerable, or for practical purposes will have to be tolerated, until and unless it comes to represent such defiance. In other words, vassal states enjoy very wide latitude to oppress and exploit their citizens or subjects until and unless such oppression and exploitation rise to a level that threatens system integrity. Actual introduction of weapons of mass destruction into political-military conflicts has been identified as in itself just such a threat to system integrity, and this foundational precept was the basis for the President’s declaration of the “red line.”
As a practical matter, mere disobedience will often have to be tolerated. Vast cruelty in violation of fundamental norms may be tolerated. The combination will tend not to be, and significant declarations on behalf of hegemonic power in this regard are not to be defied. If they can be ignored, then hegemonic power is in doubt. If they are recognized, the justification for “system self-defense” dissolves.2
Though some may seek to portray the Russian maneuver as somehow contrary to the American interest or the interests of the Obama Administration, implementation would support the system in that it would represent the return to a posture of obedience on the part of the vassal Assad or of his regime. It would be a setback for anti-Assadist rebels on one level, but might be portrayed as serving the interest of Syrians generally in an end to civil war and transition to a political process, in other words to “polity” at all. It is entirely reasonable to consider difficulties given conditions of multi-sided warfare, but even the initial adoption of a process to address such difficulties would already be consequential movement to the end of the Syrian civil war under international observation. If the U.S., Russia, and others were determined to achieve such a result, it would be well within their power. However, they may not come to such a determination for a long time, if ever. In the meanwhile, the short-term relief in particular to the Obama Administration cannot be rejected.