The Syrian Civil War rumbles on, at huge human cost—more than 350,000 dead and still counting, with millions more left living in a state of perpetual misery and periodic terror. This is a tragedy unfolding in front of our very eyes, that future generations will see as an indelible stain on our age. No question about it.
Over the weekend the US, UK and France conducted a series of missile strikes in response to the Syrian governments (alleged) use of poison gas against its own people. This is not the first time the Assad regime has been accused of chemical warfare. Nor is it the first time that air strikes have been utilised by the US et al. in response. It likely won’t be the last, either. For this is not a solution but a token show of force. The handiwork of politicians more intent on beating their chest on the international stage than on trying to find ways to end the suffering of the Syrian people. Politicians, moreover, who can always fall back on the argument that they had to do something, no matter how counter-productive this something ultimately proves to be.
Quite how Assad—and more importantly his friends in Moscow and Tehran—will respond remains to be seen. There will doubtless be angry words exchanged. Accusations and insults will be thrown around. Fingers wagged and special measures imposed. Maybe there’ll even be some kind of direct retaliation. But all parties know there’s a limit. No one wants this to spiral out of control, to go from a proxy war to an apocalyptic world war in which major nuclear powers face off. (Except, perhaps, for some of the more extreme ISIS and ISIS-like elements active in Syria, who in a rather curious turn of events are also the indirect beneficiaries of continued Western intervention against the Assad regime.)
Yet while we focus on the machinations of the various states and groups that have made Syria their geopolitical playground, along with the wider implications of this, especially—and perhaps rather selfishly—for our own safety, our gaze is distracted from the most important thing of all: The desperate plight of the Syrian people. Indeed, as it stands it’s hard not to suspect that when future generations come to write the history of this conflict they will judge the world of today pretty harshly for failing the people trapped in Syria. For reining bombs rather than securing ceasefires.
Evil, our descendants may well conclude, triumphs when indifferent populaces allow reckless politicians to make a mess of faraway lands about which they know little. That, unfortunately, is Syria in a nutshell.