No End in Sight: Syria's Wicked Civil War Rages On
With over 200,000 Syrians killed, tens of thousands missing or in detention camps, millions displaced, and a generation of Syrians growing up stateless in refugee camps in the region, the world watches as the fourth year of a civil war passes that has left over 80 percent of the country without electricity and a majority of the country’s towns decimated.
Syria’s cultural heritage, notably in Aleppo, has been decimated. Regional government sources calculate the costs of rebuilding Syria to exceed one hundred billion dollars. The effects of this regional conflict increasingly strain Syria’s neighbors’ financially, politically, and socially. While much coverage has focused on Iraq and Daesh’s surge, Lebanon is in a tenuous balance with militants operating in the state, sectarian fighting, and over a million Syrian refugees..
At the same time, the larger diplomatic process is dead--with no definable way forward to bridge the gap, on the one hand, between the increasingly confident President Assad who has expressed his own renewed confidence about winning this four years old conflict and his growing number of opponents. on the other. Syria’s opposition has been pulverized.
What’s more, groups such as Daesh and Al Nusra have consolidated their control over strategic parts of north and eastern Syria and oppose any peace process. While UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura has attempted to broker local cease fires (“freezes”), these efforts have failed so far to make any tangible changes on the ground and arguably, at times, tend to benefit Damascus more so than its opponents.
Outside states, involved in the civil war, also are severely divided over what type of political solution should occur in Syria. Sparring over other global crises, Moscow and Washington remain deeply divided. Against Washington’s interests, Ankara is more focused on overthrowing Assad and containing the Kurds than a sustainable solution to its neighbor’s strife.
The GCC and Iran remain fundamentally divided over Syria. While the U.S. has increased its training of armed opposition on the ground to counter-Daesh, the Obama administration has been wary to get further involved in Syria’s long civil war with no clear path forward on a political process and an absence of partners to work with on the ground.
The situation on the ground, then. has left the possibility of a peace process that might be concluded before the next anniversary between President Assad and the opposition a vain hope. More likely is a protracted civil war in the region that will further pull Syria’s neighbors into its vortex. Washington and its regional allies will need to identify new strategies to manage the potentially decades long conflict’s impact on their strategic interests and address critically the humanitarian cost of this civil war. Such efforts will require enhanced cooperation to contain this civil war. Failing to do so will only leave the region and Washington ever more vulnerable to these growing costs.
Andrew J. Bowen, Ph.D is a Senior Fellow and Director of Middle East Studies at the Center for the National Interest.
Image: Wikimedia/Bo yaser