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Tablet Magazine: Requiem for Syria

There will be more ceasefires in Eastern Ghouta and more violations thereof.

More resolutions from the United Nations laboriously pursued by France and blithely gutted of all meaning by Russia.

There will be more smothered children and more chlorine gas dropped on the dwindling number of neighborhoods where sparks of life can still be detected.

There will be more planes and more tanks to finish the big, ugly job, and then still more planes and more bloody ghosts crawling out of the ruins, more children with lifeless eyes pleading silently for a rescue they know will not come.

And to what ultimate end? Where does it point, this slippery disaster?

This generalized descent into hell?

This voyeuristic abdication performed against a backdrop of cemetery cities?

This crime without punishment?

How long will we hear in the West the chorus of cynics chanting, after each new massacre, “Dialogue with Assad! Dialogue with Assad!”?

Because shame seems to be the scarcest sentiment shared by this group, because their pal Assad lacks and will forever lack any intention other than to scramble shamelessly over piles of corpses in order to remain in his palaces, and because indignation no longer serves any purpose in the face of this gory nightmare, we will have to settle for yet another recapitulation of the results of these seven years of abuse of authority.

1. A country fragmented and destroyed.

2. Treasures of humanity, such as Palmyra, vandalized and reduced to ruin.

3. The United Nations, impotent against the carnage, paralyzed by the Russian veto, and more discredited than ever.

4. The modest advances made in recent decades in international humanitarian law (the responsibility to protect, the right and duty to intervene, the need to protect civilian populations) swept away by the terrifying leap backward represented, in Homs, Aleppo, and now Ghouta, by the systematic and unpunished violation of the laws and norms of war (gassing of urban residents, shelling of civilians with heavy artillery, targeting of hospitals, and widespread recourse to torture as a weapon of war like any other).

5. The serial murderer Bashar al-Assad more powerful than ever, now the inescapable interlocutor and unshunnable partner of great and respectable nations, nearly back to square one—how long before he will once again be invited to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue or the Champs Elysées, bestial and childish, his waxy face showing no marks of his cruelty?

6. An obscene license to kill issued to the planet’s would-be Assads who have been lying in ambush while awaiting the results of the test: “Now it’s our turn,” they murmur, “now we can claim the right to murder our own people.”

7. The greatest displacement of people since the Second World War: six million men, women, and children wandering the roads of their own country, stripped of their possessions and their rights, nakedly vulnerable.

8. An equally unprecedented wave of refugees washing into Turkey, Lebanon, and, of course, Europe—the true source of what we in this part of the world hypocritically call the “migrant problem.”

9. Europe, in the face of this challenge, torn between necessity and virtue, prey to the demons of populism and improvised partial solutions.

10. A discredited America, its authority squandered, its imperial might vanished in the smoke and ash of pulverized cities—a loss dating not from Trump’s arrival but, alas, from Obama’s tragic decision in the summer of 2013 to draw a red line, to threaten Assad with America’s wrath if he dared to cross it, and then, when Assad did cross it, not to act, not merely to stand down but to roll over.

11. Iran rushing into the breach and realizing, in Syria, its dream of a Shi’ite crescent stretching from Baghdad to Beirut and beyond.

12. Israel threatened to a degree not seen for a long time by a Hezbollah ready to get down to its dirty business, bristling with arms, camped out on its frontier, champing at the bit.

13. Turkey, too, emboldened by the divine surprise of a West bent inexplicably on committing hara-kiri—under the circumstances, why hold back? Why resist the temptation to push one’s advantage, today in Afrin, tomorrow somewhere else? And why should the resurrected Ottomans remain docile and obedient pupils in the NATO classroom?

14. Putin, of course, who sees himself offered the role of emperor, maker of kings, architect of peace, guarantor of regional equilibrium, all while realizing the dream of the czars of gaining a warm-water port.

15. And, finally, radical Islam. The Islamic State, the Nusra Front, Khorasan, al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, al-Qaeda… So many names for the same barbarism. But, for that barbarism, a single home base: Syria. “You have to choose,” went the refrain, “between Assad and jihad; we have to prop up Assad because he’s a bulwark.” The result? Because the regime in Damascus, from day one, came down hard on the democratic opposition while releasing the fundamentalists from its prisons, we got both Assad and jihad, a double sentence and twice the war, the two beasts of the apocalypse feeding rather than devouring each other, feigning combat the better to seal their villainous pact.

It is fashionable to second-guess the cost of interventions that did not deliver on all of their promises. Well, here we are witnessing the results of a nonintervention far more bloody and disastrous than timely intervention could possibly have been.

Translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.

[Tablet Magazine, http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/256460/requiem-for-syria]

The above photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows members of the Syrian Civil Defense group and civilians gathering to help survivors from a street attacked by airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Friday, March. 2, 2018. The Russia-ordered pause came after a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a nationwide 30-day cease-fire failed to take hold. While the relentless bombing has somewhat subsided in eastern Ghouta, home to around 400,000 civilians, the Syrian government’s push to squeeze the insurgents out of the region continued. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

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