When, in 1936, the Fascists rose against the Spanish Republic, the international community was split as it is today over Syria. And as the civil war rages in Syria, echoes of Spain reverberate throughout the Levant. They are ominous, regardless of historical differences — for as opposite extremes clash, Western democracies have yet again chosen to take no stand, and let the forces of moderation be crushed by their mightier and more cruel opponents.
Our exercise in self-sidelining is as myopic as it was in the 1930s. Unless there are no winners, we will be left to deal with the consequences of either regime survival — an Iranian victory — or a jihadi-dominated new order — a Western defeat.
We will no doubt protest that a third option was tenuous at best, rather than asking ourselves what could have been done to make it viable. By then, it will be too late — because, much as in 1936, our conviction is weaker than that of our adversaries. They know what they want and they are ready to pay the price. We don't — and we would prefer it if the UN paid the bill.
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sided with their ideological next-of-kin, the Spanish Falange. For them, turning Spain into an integral part of the incipient Axis offered a number of advantages, including testing the resolve of their adversaries. Though Russia and Iran are siding with Bashar al-Assad's regime rather than with the rebels, their role is much the same — and they are not sparing any effort.
Iran did not hesitate to back Assad's killing machine with the full weight of financial support, weapons supplies and boots on the ground — both directly with the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Forces and indirectly through the deployment of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.