“The notion that the postwar world would no longer let leaders indiscriminately kill their own citizens now seems in full retreat.”
Anne Barnard writes for The New York Times:
The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War.
Authoritarian-leaning leaders are on the rise, and liberal democracy itself seems under siege. The post-World War II order is fraying as fighting spills across borders and international institutions — built, at least in theory, to act as brakes on wanton slaughter — fail to provide solutions. Populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic are not just riding anti-establishment anger, but stoking fears of a religious “other,” this time Muslims.
These challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under “Muslims killing Muslims”: the war in Syria.
Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world. Millions have fled to neighboring countries, some pushing on to Europe.
The notion that the postwar world would no longer let leaders indiscriminately kill their own citizens now seems in full retreat. The Syrian government’s response to rebellion, continuing year after year, threatens to normalize levels of state brutality not seen in decades. All the while President Bashar al-Assad invokes an excuse increasingly popular among the world’s governments since Sept. 11: He is “fighting terror.”
“Syria did not cause everything,” said the Syrian dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a secular leftist who spent nearly two decades as a political prisoner under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez. “But yes, Syria changed the world.”
The United Nations Security Council is paralyzed. Aid agencies are overwhelmed. Even a United States missile strike on a Syrian military air base, ordered by President Trump in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held town, seems little more than a blip in the turmoil, the latest unilateral intervention in the war. Two weeks later, the Syrian government, backed by Russia, continues its scorched-earth bombings.
There remains no consensus on what should have been or could still be done for Syria, or whether a more, or less, muscular international approach would have brought better results.
The Obama White House kept Syria at arm’s length, determined, understandably, to avoid the mistakes of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And Western leaders surmised that unlike the 1990s civil war in Bosnia, the Syrian conflict could burn in isolation from their countries.
Moral or not, that calculation was incorrect. The crisis has crossed Europe’s doorstep and is roiling its politics.
“We’ve thrown values by the wayside, but also not been able to act in our own interests, because we let things go too long,” said Joost Hiltermann, a Dutch citizen who is the Middle East director for the International Crisis Group.
Omran Daqneesh, the 5-year-old boy injured and the rest of his family killed or wounded in an Assad regime bombing of Aleppo, August 2016