The war in Syria started as a popular uprising but very quickly turned into something different: a multi-layer conflict where various actors, internal and external, used and exploited the Syrian territory for their own purposes.
That does not mean Bashar al-Assad regime has no responsibility. Just in these days we remember the first demonstrations that in March 2011 asked for rights and freedoms. And at the same time we must not forget that the harsh response by the Assad regime to the peaceful demonstrations set in motion a vicious circle that would soon plunge the country into the abyss.
But after ten years of conflict another reflection is also needed: has the international community done whatever needed for preventing the total destruction of Syria?
The exercise would be even more useful if we were able to focus on ourselves, on the West, and if we thought that after all in a context of war some dynamics always repeat themselves. Any consideration on the Syrian crisis today will be useful in another conflict tomorrow.
First. When the war started the West decided not to intervene. Barack Obama did not want to repeat George W. Bush’s mistakes in Iraq only a few years before. United States and Europe responded negatively to the opposition’s requests for help. Barack Obama spoke of a red line in reference to the use of chemical weapons, but not even a major bombardment with chemicals by the regime on the outskirts of Damascus in the summer of 2013 made him change his mind.
Could any kind of unarmed intervention be considered to stop Assad and avoid the humanitarian disaster? Or was the diplomatic weight of the United States and Europe in the region minimal compared to that of Russia, and why? Actually, at the same time, in 2015, the Obama administration reached an agreement with Iran, the main sponsor of the Syrian regime, on its nuclear programme. Was Syria too complex? Didn’t Western diplomacies understand what was going on? Why didn’t they stop the Gulf monarchies from intervening in the conflict and supporting the rebels only on the basis of their individual interests?
Second. The war is not over. Today in Idlib, in the northwest of the country, almost four million people are trapped in a small territory close to the border with Turkey, with the regime forces on one side and Islamic groups on the other. Will Europe remain silent in order to avoid new migration flows to EU countries via Turkey? In 2016 the European Union signed an agreement with Ankara: the Turkish government agreed to block the departure of migrants for money. Today the Turkish army is inside Idlib, also to prevent more than three million people from crossing the border.
Europe is outsourcing migration management. It is doing the same in Libya. Why didn’t it study an effective and human migration policy?
Third. Can we (the West) do anything to prevent the resurgence of groups such as ISIS? Can we think anything different from a military intervention (used in Syria and in Iraq since 2014) to stop Islamic extremism? Can we, for example, intervene on economic and social matters?
Fourth. Why did the international community exploit the Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State and then forget them? Why didn’t United States and Europe persuade Turkey to have a different policy in northern Syria? What could we do to promote respect for and protection of minorities under all circumstance?
To avoid other disasters like the Syrian one, we should start looking for answers also in Europe.