Talks between Iran and Turkey have resulted in a temporary truce between their proxies fighting in Syria, for and against the Assad regime respectively. Talks between Russia and Saudi Arabia earlier this week didn't go as well. It seems now that the Saudis, perhaps more than the Americans, are the main obstacle to a resolution of the Syrian conflict that would result in a united effort to crush the self-styled Islamic State. The sticking point, as it has been for some time, remains whether Assad should participate in peace negotiations. Since he is the leader of the country, whether people like that or not -- and a lot of Syrians clearly don't -- his participation makes sense. The Saudis, however, are taking an American-style "Assad Must Go" stance, going so far as to blame him, rather than the people fighting him, for the rise of the dread Daesh. As far as they're concerned, Assad had no right to defend himself against the original uprising. As far as the rest of us are concerned, while an early Assad capitulation might well have prevented the Daesh from gaining strength in the best of all possible worlds, a mutual refusal of reconciliation leaves all Syrian forces, as well as the outsiders supporting them, with shares of blame for the current crisis. Blaming Assad alone for it is like Republican neocons blaming President Obama for not giving enough support to the alleged moderates in the country -- some of whom proved their relative prowess anew recently by getting captured by Islamist militias -- when the President bears blame for supporting anyone in the first place.
Not only is everyone fighting everyone in Syria, but there also, more so now than anyplace else on Earth, the perfect is the enemy of the good. The good at this point is defeating the would-be caliphate, but there are too many perfects jostling for attention. The Saudis, presumably, want a perfectly Sunni-friendly regime, i.e. one free of Iranian influence, while the Americans, presumably, want a perfect liberal democracy, but will settle for a government free of Iranian influence, and the Iranians, presumably, think things were perfect in Syria under a hereditary non-Sunni dictator before people got uppity. But if Iran is to be chided for its complacent attitude toward an unsavory ally, let's keep the main idea of the moment in mind: A Daesh takeover of Syria would be worse than an indefinite continuation of Assad or Baathist government. It should also be self-evident that continued chaos in the country would be worse than Assad or his party staying in power. Is it such a betrayal of principles or presumed long-term interests to concede these points? If not, then let's move on to the next steps. What assurances can Assad give the Saudis in order to reconcile them to his remaining in power, or sharing it with responsible rebel factions? Can he give the assurances the Saudis (and Americans) presumably want without alienating his best friends, the Iranians? Can the Iranians give assurances that will placate the Saudis? Presuming that Russia is really more concerned with Syria, where they have a naval base, than with Iran, might the Russians not put pressure Iran to give the Saudis whatever assurances are necessary to reconcile them to Assad? As for the U.S., I suspect that Obama's insistence on the nuclear treaty is based on a hope that it will make a comprehensive coalition against the Daesh, but the last I heard, even he was taking the hard "Assad Must Go" line. Politics may compel him to do so, but he ought to realize that that position is strategically unsustainable and, with the privilege of a lame duck, act on that realization. After all, could Israel and its American idolaters really get more offended at him for "appeasing" Assad than they are now over the Iran deal?
Yet Obama himself, however un-American many Americans think him to be, may still entertain the liberal delusion that the best, and thus the necessary and only possible solution, must do without dictators. I don't buy the "the perfect is the enemy of the good" argument in domestic politics, but it definitely applies to Syria, especially when insisting on the "perfect" actually strengthens the worst. In the U.S. and probably elsewhere, so-called statesmen spend too much time promoting the perfect when their first priority ought to be preventing the worst. When the worst option is as self-evident as the Daesh seems to be, everyone needs to swallow some pride and put aside their perfect dreams for awhile -- and if that means Assad wins, tough. Winston Churchill, explaining his rapprochement with Stalin's USSR during Operation Barbarossa, said that he'd make an alliance with the Devil if Hitler invaded Hell. However bad Assad may be, he is neither the Devil nor Stalin -- so how hard can this be, everybody?