Book review: The Syria Dilemma

The Syrian crisis is now into its sixth year with tens of thousands killed and millions displaced. It is without a doubt one of the biggest humanitarian tragedy in modern times but has only in the past year received considerably more international attention.

Written in 2013, The Syria Dilemma is a collection of 21 essays edited by Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel to highlight the complexities and fragmentation in the then three-year-old civil war in Syria.

This got me interested to revisit earlier arguments that thinkers and academics made, including US President Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” comment where he declared that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons crosses a line that might trigger US military intervention. What struck me was how discussions had dramatically shifted in the past two years. In 2013, the Syrian problem and solution centered on the dictatorship of the Bashar al-Assad government; but today, he had been overshadowed by the brutality of the Islamic State (IS).

Mapping such changes serve as a form of reflection to re-think about where we stand today, and observe how much or how little we have learned from our earlier mistakes. Below are some quotes from various essays in the book that I hope will be be food for thought for this crisis that appears to have no end in sight.

“These atrocities are committed without any specific sectarian agenda in mind; they are committed not because there is an Alawi-Shiite conspiracy or because the Sunnis have been patiently awaiting “their turn.” Let us point the finger squarely and unequivocally at the perpetrators: these crimes against humanity are being committed by the Assad regime because the Assad family and security apparatus cannot fathom a country governed by anyone else, let alone free Syrians.”
– Rafif Jouejati “Syria is Melting”

“In due time, the Obama administration’s inability or unwillingness to act may be remembered as one of the great strategic and moral blunders of recent decades. Hoping to atone for our sins in Iraq, we have overlearned the lessons of the lat war. I only wish it wasn’t too late”
– Shadi Hamid, “Syria Is Not Iraq: Why The Legacy of The Iraq War Keeps Us From Doing The Right Thing In Syria”

“So why is nothing being done to help people in the non-government-controlled areas? The answer, I think, has to do with the legacy of the War on Terror and the way the situation in Syria has been framed. The war in Syria has been variously described as a revolution, as jihadist/terrorist violence, or as a massive violation of human rights. Western governments interpret the war as a revolution, and their solution is arming the rebels. At the same time they are reluctant to intervene directly because they fear being dragged into a new war after the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
– Mary Kaldor, “A Humanitarian Strategy Focused on Syrian Civilians”

“The Friends of Syria group, which was established specifically for the sake of creating a venue outside of the United Nations in which an international coalition could begin considering actions that would protect the lives of Syrian civilians, has offered only words of sympathy and empty promises to the Syrian people. Syrians have learned not to expect much from the international community after many conferences concluded without adopting any meaningful decisions.”
– Radwan Ziadeh, “A Syrian Case for Humanitarian Intervention”

“Syrians are anxiously anticipating a new dawn, but many factors and powers are stretching the dark night of their suffering. If all the options that could save Syria are ignored and the country is abandoned to the chaos of sectarian provocations regional tensions, and international interests, Syria will be yet another mirror of the failure of the international order.”
– Afra Jalabi, “Anxiously Anticipating a New Dawn: Voices of Syrian Activists”

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