If there is one silver lining, however dull, to the recent international terrorism atrocities claimed by the Islamic State (Isis), it is the news that the United States and Russia have agreed on a blueprint for a negotiated peace for the Syrian civil war.
The Isis has left a remarkable trail of international destruction in just a few weeks — it is now believed to have brought down a Russian airliner, carried out twin blasts in Beirut and most recently the serial carnage in Paris.
The evidence is that Isis’ international reach is increasing and its rhetoric against the West becoming shriller. Now the terror-state’s acts are grudgingly getting great and regional powers to set aside their differences and accept that the Isis is their collective number one threat. Such a coalition is the only real way of destroying or even containing the Isis.
There are many reasons to be sceptical about the likelihood of the new peace proposals being implemented. Introducing a ceasefire in Syria between the various players on the ground would require almost miraculous powers of persuasion. It is definitely hard to see why the Isis should holster its weapons.
The other proposal, to hold democratic elections in the country, sounds even more implausible. Even before the civil war broke out, the Syrians had no real tradition of democracy. But the sight of the US and Russia coming together on any major international crisis, let alone one as divisive as Syria, is welcome. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been silent about his decision to intervene in Syria since the airliner crash, and is interested in cutting his losses.
US President Barack Obama has made no bones of his desire not to intervene militarily in West Asia. The European Union would love any progress in Syria, if only to end the present refugee crisis on its borders. What has happened is that Isis has made itself the primary concern of all these foreign players. The US has accepted that the Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, cannot be expected to step down, no matter how brutal he may be. Even external players like Iran and Saudi Arabia may not be averse to a political solution that at least stops the violence, given the costs in both blood and money that the war has already extracted from them.
Even the major Sunni powers in the region have been bloodied by the Isis despite their initial support for the terrorist group.
It is hard to believe that Syria can ever be united as a country — and neither Assad nor the Isis deserves to rule in part or in whole. But the present diplomatic initiative, no matter how symbolic, is the first real evidence that external powers are now thinking in unison rather than in conflict as they were before. And all because the Isis has at last revealed itself to be the greater evil in every sense of the word.