Today, the Ides of March, marks the fifth anniversary of the rebellion in Syria against the Assad regime, notes Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:
These five years have brought an amazing humanitarian disaster: perhaps 350,000 dead, half the population driven from their homes, 4 million refugees. The impact has been enormous: from destabilizing the politics and economics of Jordan and Lebanon, to increasing the Iranian role in the Arab Middle East greatly, to bringing Russia back into the region, to the destabilization of the European Union through massive refugee flows.
There is no shortage of causes for Syria’s erasure as a state, notes Steven Heydemann, the Janet W. Ketcham 1953 Chair in Middle East Studies at Smith College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy:
The brutality with which the Assad regime has pursued its own survival looms largest but it by no means stands alone. The Islamic State, aided and abetted by the Assad regime, has absorbed large pieces of Syrian territory into its so-called Caliphate. Syria’s fractious opposition, dependent on its regional patrons and captive to the personal ambitions of its leaders, is certainly complicit in the destruction of its homeland. So too are the neglect and incoherence of the “Friends of Syria” group established in 2011 to coordinate international support to the opposition under the leadership of the U.S. and its Western allies. Despite President Obama’s declaration in August 2011 that it was time for Assad to step aside, the administration’s calculus of interests, constraints and costs quickly led it to view Syria and Syrians as expendable.
Was Syria’s collapse inevitable once the Assad regime moved to crush a national protest movement, setting in motion a downward spiral of escalating violence? Heydemann asks in The Washington Post:
Was there anything the United States, in particular, could have done to mitigate the conflict, shift the trajectory of the uprising and help bring about a meaningful political transition along the lines set out in the Geneva Communiqué of June 2012? If such options were available, as former senior figures in the Obama administration have acknowledged publicly after leaving office, why did the United States not pursue them?….What, then, are some of the preliminary lessons learned from the Syrian conflict?
In the short term it is not too late for the incoming president to engage the United States more assertively in efforts to move the Syrian conflict toward a negotiated transition, on terms that increase the likelihood of a durable settlement that will not force Syrians to return to the brutal dictatorship of the Assad regime, or expose them to the equally brutal predations of the Islamic State, he insists. RTWT