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More than 110,000 people dead. Seven million individuals displaced from their homes. Three and a half million child refugees. Multiple assaults with chemical weapons.
These are the grim statistics that define the Syrian conflict. What began as peaceful demonstrations on March 15, 2011 has devolved into a human tragedy of epic proportions that has stymied the international community.
How to end the brutal civil war is far from evident. This, at least, was the dismal conclusion of experts who discussed the conflict at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum last night (September 24). “The Syrian Tragedy: Ending the Bloodshed” was moderated by Meghan O’Sullivan, Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at HKS.
Frederic Hof, a senior fellow with at the Atlantic Council, noted that a political situation, while possible, is not likely under current circumstances. “According to the US and the EU, the only way forward is a negotiated settlement,” said Hof. “But Russia and Syria aren’t buying it.”
“It’s too soon to tell if Assad is a winner or loser” after the proposed chemical weapons deal, said Mona Yacoubian MPA 1989, a senior adviser at the Stimson Center.
Joseph Bahout, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sciences Po Paris, emphasized that the proposed disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons needs to be considered separately from the idea of a political solution to the civil war.
“If we solve for the chemical weapons, we don’t solve the Syrian problem,” he said. “A political solution, while desirable, seems impossible,” he said.
Yacoubian was a bit more optimistic, noting that without a diplomatic solution Syria faces the possibility of several more years of conflict. But whether the situation on the ground can be shifted with mere diplomacy is an open question.
Panelists agreed on the need for a broader strategy. Hof noted that the United States has “no systematic methodology for defining the objectives of the US or creating a strategy to achieve these objectives.”
The most poignant question from the audience, though, dealt with a core issue: what can the average person in the United States do to help the millions of suffering Syrian civilians? Panelists suggested that citizens donate to humanitarian groups dedicated to helping the refugees, especially ones that educate the millions of refugee Syrian children.
As Bahout said, “We need to offer the children something other than violence.”
(From L to R) Meghan O’Sullivan; moderator, Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at HKS; Joseph Bahout, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sciences Po Paris; Mona Yacoubian MPA 1989, Stimson Center senior adviser; Frederic Hof, Atlantic Council senior fellow
Panelists agreed on the need for a broader strategy.