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Thread by @djrothkopf: "What is to be done about Syria is a question that has tormented serious policy people for 7 yrs now. Half a million people have died and 7 m […]"

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What is to be done about Syria is a question that has tormented serious policy people for 7 yrs now. Half a million people have died and 7 million displaced while the international community has debated the best path forward. Untold devastation and cruelty has continued unabated.
The Obama admin. was tormented by the lack of international support for intervention, by its own aversion to getting bogged down in another regional war, by the lack of "desirable" allies on the ground, by domestic politics in the U.S. For the most part, they chose inaction.
There was diplomacy that seemed promising but there was less to it than met the eye. The Trump administration has chosen limited action, spasmodic intervention and periodic deference to Russia. Neither has had a sound strategy for grappling with the problem.
Neither had a vision for long-term U.S. interests in a rapidly changing Middle East or a strategy to achieve that vision. Both have practiced diplomacy with our allies ineffectively. (And much blame goes to the inertia of the allies.). Of course, most of the blame...
...falls on Assad and his allies and enablers and Iran and Russia. Assad is a war criminal, clearly guilty of the worst sort of crimes against humanity. He has undoubtedly been abetted in this by Moscow and Tehran. They have also been abetted by the fecklessness of the US...
& all others looking for a perfect solution where there is none, a risk-free solution where risk is everywhere, a solution in international law when UNSC vetoes & polices that let nation-states butcher their citizens w/relative impunity make that an unattainable dream.
The opportunities to act early in the crisis when action would have likely been easier and more effective were squandered--whether that meant creating humanitarian corridors, imposing no fly zones, embracing allies who were imperfect but better than the alternatives, etc.
Later, as the crisis grew more complex, as Russia put troops on the ground (effectively unchallenged by the international community), as the rise of IS changed the narrative, such possibilities evaporated and our perceived priorities shifted. And still the people of Syria died.
The resulting refugee crisis and the rise of terrorists has placed huge pressure on neighboring countries and has been used an excuse for the rise of the nationalist/nativist far right in the U.S. and Europe. It has empowered Russia, Iran, and Assad.
And still the people of Syria have suffered and their cities lie in rubble. This week's airstrikes will do little to resolve that. Some action is better than none if it has an iota of deterrent effect. But it is as close to do nothing as can be without actually doing another.
And so here we remain. The international community led by the United States must recognize that Syria is not just a humanitarian catastrophe. It is an indictment of the international system. Assad should have been tried and convicted in absentia for war crimes.
Syria should have been completely shut out of the international economic system and Assad's cronies impoverished by their affiliation with him. Sanctions agains the Russians and the Iranians for affiliating with him should have been powerful and universally embraced.
Assad's air forces and military command control capacity should have been obliterated. Direct support to whoever we feel are the best of his adversaries (flawed though they may be) should be increased. We should show loyalty to the Kurds who have supported our effort...
...including the promise of independence for them. Want to debate these choices or add others, fine. But here's the reality...once again...as in Rwanda, the DRC and Cambodia, as with the Rohingya and as with the victims of the Nazis and the Soviets, we have shown...
...that for all our talk of int'l law, we live in a lawless world. We can regulate mid-level crimes but we can't stop the worst of crimes against humanity. We must act to help the people of Syria however we can-as multilaterally as possible-even when solutions are imperfect.
But we need also to work to create alliances, global if possible but if nations like Russia choose to be outliers and outlaws than without them if necessary, that will act to protect the innocent in the face of the depredations of those empowered by our "system" of nation-states.
This is the biggest piece of work left undone by the effort to make an int'l system created in the wake of World War II. The worst kinds of depravities it saw are still be visited up on the most helpless among us. It is time to rise above politics and move beyond inaction.
It is time to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good or distance to allow us to look past our moral obligations to our neighbors on this planet. The reason to act is because that is what human beings should do for one another if they aspire to be good in any way.
The time to act and to begin to remake our profoundly flawed system is now. Or it will be, when we once again have leaders who recognize their responsibility to values and ethics and to leave this world in better shape for our children than we found it.
p.s. And let me be clear, part of the solution is much more robust humanitarian responses and a willingness of all nations including the U.S. to not just accept but to welcome and care for refugees.
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