“Complacency is not the character of great nations,” President Obama told a crowd of Berliners on Wednesday.
While that may be – considering our instinctual impulse to police the world – true, Obama could have amended the soundbite to project a more absolute truth. Diplomacy is not the character of great nations. The G8 Summit’s Syria discussions are a testament to that. Diplomacy in the West is just one multinational circle jerk.
The G-8 concluded this week that they would support a transitional government in Syria. Yet, this is no novel idea. At the 2012 Geneva Convention, far before the Syrian conflict had reached international infamy, the participating parties decided on the exact deal, which "stipulated the formation of a transitional government composed of members of Bashar al-Assad's government and opposition figures in order to sort out the necessary arrangements for free elections."
This year, the G-8 merely decided to stay the course. They released a statement saying, "We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria."
Can we call this diplomacy, if after a year of war, with the stakes having so drastically heightened, the world's most powerful leaders cannot decide on a more innovative approach to the conflict? One year ago, the Arab Spring was still on our radar. One year ago, many were convinced Assad would lose. Chemical weaponry allegations did not exist. The conflict of today is sectarian and filled with foreign fighters. And today, Assad is winning.
The problem with our Western (and Eastern) counterparts at the G-8 — and diplomacy, in general, for that matter — is their support for the notion that international relations can be conducted from behind a desk. Note that as mostly white men discussed the future of Syria this week at the G-8, no Syrian, no opposition force, and no al-Assad, was called to elevate the discussion beyond empty political rhetoric. Without these voices enlightening the debate, the G-8 could only work within the boundaries of well-padded diplomatic hypotheticals.
The summit concluded that another Geneva Convention — Geneva 2 — should be held this year, in order to discuss again Syria's future.
When Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, received news of the G-8's conclusions, he said, "We expected more. We expected a more solid statement, a more decisive one."
But what Al-Mikdad should understand is that diplomacy in the West is nothing more than a power trip. Summits like the G-8 and conventions like Geneva are just opportunities for the world's most influential (white) men to gather and re-assert their unbridled political power. It is not important they act as responsible leaders, because they are, in fact, accountable to no one. The summiters have the power to gather and sketch out the future of Syria on the back of napkins. David Cameron, the British prime minister can say with resolute determination it is "unthinkable that President Assad can play any part in the future government of his country." Yet until now Syrians have not been given a true voice in the conflict. Even al-Assad.
G-8 leaders actually invested in a "united, inclusive and democratic Syria" would not still be leaning on an outdated peace plan. They would have established a no-fly zone from the beginning of the conflict, and would not — now that the opposition is flooded with foreign extremist fighters — consider arming rebels in order to bring down the regime.
What the G-8 summit proves is that the world's most powerful leaders would rather flex their muscles than pave a way for the safe and stable Syria its citizens deserve. Diplomacy is but a euphemism for stagnation.