The mosaic of cultures that made for Syria’s richness is being lost. The rebels calculated that, as in Libya, NATO would ensure their swift victory. The US decided that the regime was so unpopular that the rebels would overthrow it without NATO help. Both were wrong.
Yet neither is taking the obvious alternative to the failed policy of violence: a negotiated settlement. Hillary Clinton, when she was US secretary of state, repeatedly said, as she did when Kofi Annan urged discussions between President Assad and his armed opponents, “Assad will still have to go.” Her successor, John Kerry, took a more nuanced stance but did nothing to bring it about, while Britain and France devoted their energies to promoting arms transfers to the rebels. Russia and Iran have contributed primarily by sending weapons to the regime, and at least a half-dozen countries are meddling on the other side.
Does anyone have the Syrians’ well-being in mind? Thomas Hardy, in his novel The Woodlanders, wrote of the knowledge required of anyone interfering with the lives of the people in his fictional Hintock:
“He must know all about those invisible ones of the days gone by, whose feet have traversed the fields which look so grey from his windows; recall whose creaking plough has turned those sods from time to time; whose hands planted the trees that form a crest to the opposite hill; whose horses and hounds have torn through that underwood; what birds affect that particular brake; what bygone domestic dramas of love, jealousy, revenge or disappointment have been enacted in the cottages, the mansions, the street or on the green.”
Who in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Riyadh or Doha has that understanding of Syria? Who among the politicians or dictators of those countries foresees the consequences of their inflaming Syrian passions with more weapons and money?
Hardy had in mind an outsider with no knowledge of Hintock’s “bygone domestic dramas,” a doctor named Edred Fitzpiers. Fitzpiers was treating the aged John South for an unnamed malady that appeared to be related to his fear of a tree growing outside his window. The doctor ordered: “The tree must be cut down, or I won’t answer for his life.” South woke the next morning and, seeing the hated tree gone, died. Fitzpiers said only, “D–d if my remedy hasn’t killed him!”
Read the rest of Chapter 1 of Charles Glass’s excellent Syria Burning: ISIS and the death of the Arab Spring.