Like many people around the world, I have been struggling for catharsis on the Syrian question. How did it come to this for the Syrian people? Why hasn’t the international community done more to help these people? Why is the United Nations both gutless and weak? Short of mocking Trump on Aleppo and writing a brief comment on a friend’s Facebook page, I have been silent on the topic.
I know that I am mostly upset and angry with the situation. I want to know what is happening there. I have to look. I must read. Every day there is another image or story shared or released through the (social) media on Syria, the Middle East, ISIS, the UN, the US, or Russia. Many reasons for this latest conflict circulate. Most rely upon argumentative speculation meant to manipulate people like you and me who are a world away form this humanitarian crisis.
But those images and stories cause a ground-swell of emotion in anyone breathing: anger at the gas attacks on innocent civilians; heart-break for the children and caregivers in a bombed-out hospital; sadness at the dust-covered child sitting or walking alone in a hospital with no one to care for him or her; fear for the people that take daily videos of continued aerial bombings and ground assaults; and remorse that this will continue unabated until one side claims victory and brutally stamps out any remaining vestiges of rebellion or loyalism.
It has been years. What started as a demonstration and protest for democratic rights in the Arab Spring turned into a civil war, and eventually devolved into a proxy war including ISIS, the United States, and Russia. Lines have been drawn in the sand many times by international actors; those lines have been stepped over or simply ignored. The political elite share their personal shock and outrage; fists are shaken; proverbial sabres are rattled; and condemnation rings through the halls of democratic legislatures. Countries resolve to hold diplomatic meetings to reinforce the idea that something must be done. Letters are written. Pacts of intention are signed. To the jeers of “Do something!”, the political elite settle on the path of least resistance.
The course of military action: give guns and munitions to the Syrians, and fly impersonal air sorties to indiscriminately drop bombs. Diplomatic action: attempt to squeeze blood from a stone and cut-off as many resources as possible. Also, continue to write letters of condemnation and outrage. Outcome: Syrians of all political stripes continue to be killed, starved, and otherwise devastated.
Thousands of people have died fighting for their cause, likely with divided loyalties only trying to survive another day in hopes of returning to their families and friends. Still hundreds of thousands more have been displaced, a dismal fraction of which have been accepted as future citizens – as equals – into well-meaning countries.
Through years of watching this unfold, I find my personal, uninspiring, and embarrassing catharsis. I haven’t said anything about Aleppo because I’m not willing to sacrifice my life or the lives of my family and friends – of fellow citizens who share similar values and ideals – to hopefully conclude a crisis that none of us actually understand. It’s not simply an US vs. THEM situation: even though neo-conservatives wanted Iraq and Afghanistan to be this simple to understand, they aren’t either.
If I call my MP, if I write a letter to Trudeau, I will not be seeking a diplomatic solution to Assad and Russia. Diplomacy has utterly failed the people of Syria. I would be asking for unprecedented military intervention in this conflict. I would be asking others to put their lives on the line, and I will never ask another person to do what I will not. I am not willing to die for a geo-political game of cat-and-mouse in hopes of ousting a dictator and artificially instilling democracy on a war-torn people. Remember America’s attempt at state-building in post-Hussein Iraq? Not going so well.
I still have hope for the Syrian people. Regardless of their side’s agenda the actual people fighting, or those that are caught-up in the fighting, are simply trying to survive. I want to see this Arab-Spring-civil-ISIS-proxy-war, and the human misery it has created, come to an end. But it won’t. Not any time soon. And there is not one palatable answer: our age-old refrain of “Do something!” isn’t enough. It only demonstrates that we are as gutless and timid as our political leaders who are biding time until someone else ends the conflict. Right now, it appears that will be Assad.