September 3, 2013

Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

By Max Fisher / The Washington Post

(Continued from page 4)

So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. And the only way to do that, short of removing them from the planet entirely, is for everyone to just agree in advance to never use them and to really mean it. That becomes much harder if the norm is weakened because someone like Assad got away with it. It becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.

That's why the Obama administration apparently wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria, even though it won't end the suffering, end the war or even really hurt Assad that much.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What's going to happen?

Short-term maybe the U.S. and some allies will launch some limited, brief strikes against Syria and maybe they won't. Either way, these things seem pretty certain in the long-term:

— The killing will continue, probably for years. There's no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there's no foreseeable victory for either. Refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries, causing instability and an entire other humanitarian crisis as conditions in the camps worsen.

— Syria as we know it, an ancient place with a rich and celebrated culture and history, will be a broken, failed society, probably for a generation or more. It's very hard to see how you rebuild a functioning state after this. Maybe worse, it's hard to see how you get back to a working social contract where everyone agrees to get along.

— Russia will continue to block international action, the window for which has maybe closed anyway. The U.S. might try to pressure, cajole or even horse-trade Moscow into changing its mind, but there's not much we can offer them that they care about as much as Syria.

— At some point the conflict will cool, either from a partial victory or from exhaustion. The world could maybe send in some peacekeepers or even broker a fragile peace between the various ethnic, religious and political factions. Probably the best model is Lebanon, which fought a brutal civil war that lasted 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and has been slowly, slowly recovering ever since. It had some bombings just last week.

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