Let’s take a break from contemplating peace and goodwill for a few minutes, to look at a brief example of one of the millions of ways that evil works. It is not the cartoon version of evil, the way we perceive it when we wake up in the middle of the night: Satan with horns, a large monster with claws, scowling ugly women in dark clothes with black cats.
Those metaphors mislead us from real evil, which rises from natural aspects of human psychology. Real evil may be men who work in offices, who dress neatly in expensive suits and ties, and who speak carefully and with cold calculation.
In June of 2012, in response to the Civil War in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry made a statement that the implementation of Kofi Annan’s proposal for negotiations “opens a real opportunity… for launching a full-fledged dialogue in Syria and returning the situation into a peaceful stream.”
This sounds good. Not only dialogue, but “full-fledged dialogue”, which must be even more extensive than regular dialogue. Everybody takes part. Plus a peaceful stream. The Russian statement went on to say that the negotiations should be on condition of “constructive cooperation between all sides involved in the conflict.” This also sounds good.
“Cooperation” means people working together, and if their cooperation is “constructive”, better still, as they are working to achieve some positive goal of creating something. Who did the Russian Foreign Ministry have in mind to engage in this constructive cooperation?
The two sides were (1) the government of Bashar al-Assad, and (2) the people who had slowly begun to take up weapons and fight against him. For months the Syrian people protested against the government of Assad, part of the general movement of the Arab Spring. Like every dictator, Assad resisted, until he was consistently killing people not only during the protests, but killing even more during funerals for those killed.
When a government begins to routinely gun down its citizens, should other countries in the world be involved in this? If so, what should the world do? As the killing in Syria increased, most of the world waved their arms in the air in dismay with discussions as to whether or not other countries should eventually do something maybe, under certain conditions. And in the meantime, wasn’t this just awful?
Also in June of this year, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said, “We will not support and cannot support any interference from outside or any imposition of recipes.” So the Russian position was that there should be no “interference from outside”, that no country or group from outside Syria should be involved. Apparently, negotiations led by Kofi Annan did not count as “interference”. The Russian statement went on say of this noninterference, “This also concerns the fate of Bashar al-Assad.”
Still further in June, Russia and China put out a statement that the Syrian crisis should be resolved in an impartial and peaceful way without any interference from the outside. Russia seems to have been really concerned that nobody outside the country do anything.
Back in the time of the Soviet Union, the Soviet government often used the phrase “noninterference in internal affairs”, a concept beloved by every dictatorship in the world: As long as we only abuse and kill people inside this line (our national boundary), you can’t touch us.
It’s no surprise that Russia and China still use this line of reasoning. After all, if we allow the idea that the historical accident of a national boundary is not enough to hide murderous behavior, well, just think. No dictator in the world would be secure. To avoid this pernicious idea, dictators need to stick together, and thus Russia and China have voted three times to veto UN resolutions that would have condemned Assad’s government.
But maybe “interference from the outside” means something different when you’re sitting in the Kremlin than it does in the rest of the world. At the same time that Russia was making such pious statements of wanting to help solve the conflict peacefully, they were printing money for the Syrian government, flown into the country in huge batches, and in the same month that Russia made the statement above about returning to a “peaceful stream”, they were sending attack helicopters to Assad.
Evil does not come from a red devil with horns. Evil comes—in part—from a swaggering former KGB agent who is now president of Russia. No amount of clever words will hide that.