A collection of opinionated commentaries on culture, politics and religion compiled predominantly from an American viewpoint but tempered by a global vision. My Armwood Opinion Youtube Channel @ YouTube I have a Jazz Blog @ Jazz
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The story of Syria has been one in which everything that could have gone wrong did. Hindsight is meant to be 20/20; with enough distance, it's supposed to be easy to see the path that should have been taken or the wisdom of the choices that were made. Looking back at just a small sample of the "what ifs" of Syria doesn't lend much credence to that idea.
For example, what if the NATO air campaign that would help oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi hadn't begun four days after the first Syrian protest? Maybe the Russians wouldn't have dug in their heels so hard to defend Assad. And maybe the U.S. wouldn't have hesitated to turn its military attention to stopping Syria's atrocities — including forced disappearances, rape and torture — had it not still been defending the intervention in Libya domestically.
Looking back at just a small sample of the "what ifs" of Syria doesn't lend much credence to the idea of hindsight being 20/20.
What if the Obama administration had followed through on its threats after a chemical weapons attack killed 1,400 men, women and children in Ghouta? Could Assad have been cowed into ending his war on his own people? Or was there really no combination of diplomatic pressure and military force that the U.S. would have been willing to exert in the name of protecting civilians?
As the war seems nearly won, the question is turning to what to do with the next 10 years. I spoke with Kieren Barnes, Mercy Corps' country director for Syria, about how the NGO is looking to that future. While previously the focus has been on providing immediate humanitarian needs, Barnes told me, now the question will be how to help local partners get the economy back up and running so Syrians can provide for themselves and their families.
Barnes lavished praise on the Syrians whom Mercy Corps works with — "'you give us the chance, we will then deliver,' and I've seen that proven time and time again" — while still being clear about the difficulties that remain, given the pandemic and the global economic downturn it has caused.
Despite that cautious optimism, it's hard not to feel cynical as we hit this milestone year. I've been covering this war since before it was a war — my early days of blogging in 2011 were spent tracking the U.N. Security Council's movements on Syria, parsing draft resolutions in hope of finding the key to the end of the crisis. That day never came, not through years of declining interest, not after Ghouta, not after ISIS's rise and fall.
Maybe this isn't the darkest timeline — maybe the alternative choices, the other possible futures for Syria, were worse. Maybe the U.S. would be struggling with another occupation, like in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe skirmishes with the Russians would have escalated into a full-on war. Maybe ISIS would still be in control of Syrian territory.
But there's no way to know that for sure. It's the not knowing that's going to eat at me."