The World’s Eager Sheriff’s Posse

Going through the French press coverage (Le Monde here, Le Figaro here) of yesterday’s summit in Damascus attended by the heads of state of France, Qatar and Syria as well as the Turkish prime minister, I’m struck by the way in which it illustrates in microcosm the macro models being proposed for the emerging global order. Most of the analysis has been about what the summit, and the processes that preceded it, represent for the influence of the individual countries involved. And while it’s obvious that France and Turkey are both advancing very ambitious agendas for their respective roles in the region and further afield, that’s often been portrayed in zero sum terms, in particular with regard to American influence.

But if you take a look at the summit’s official agenda combined with its symbollic significance — Israel-Syrian peace negotiations, Syrian-Lebanese relations, the Iranian nuclear program, an Israel-Hamas mediation attempt (the soldier being held prisoner in Gaza is actually Franco-Israeli), France/EU-Turkey relations — what emerges is a converging web of influence more than a zero sum game.

And if you look at the three countries that descended on Damascus, it’s striking to note that they’ve all been articulating a foreign policy based on engagement rather than confrontation. Qatar is known for its “friend to all” approach, Turkey has articulated a “zero problems” policy with regard to its neighbors, and France under Sarkozy has been pursuing a foreign policy whose only coherence is its pragmatism. The approaches are all aimed at putting the respective countries at the heart of efforts to mediate conflicts on the regional and/or global level. It’s a savvy approach that recognizes that in the current geopolitical climate, being able to resolve conflicts is as much a measure of influence as being able to win them.

Certainly there’s an element of commercial self-interest involved. But there’s also the elements of an effective approach to complicated regional issues that demand not just the imprimatur of American power and influence, but also the agility and broad support of smaller players, something I’ve previously referred to as Middle Power Mojo. America is still ultimately necessary to the process, but no longer sufficient. Instead of obstructing these Middle Powers in an increasingly anachronistic effort to isolate pariah countries, we should instead try to take advantage of their dynamic potential by integrating their influence into a coherent American foreign policy. At best, it would be a way to expand our access by more agile proxies. At worst, it would provide the supporting cast we’d need to take a “good cop, bad cop” approach to the difficult negotiations ahead.