Sept. 19, 2016, marked the end of the ceasefire agreement in Syria brokered by the United States and Russia. The ceasefire was designed to open up major roads in Aleppo — the center of the humanitarian crisis stemming from the civil war between the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebel forces — for foreign aid to come in.
However, very little aid was able to come into many parts of Aleppo. In one instance, Russian warplanes were believed to have bombed a United Nations aid convoy as it was unloading necessities like food and water, killing 20 people and destroying 18 trucks.
Despite the appearance of egregious war crimes on both Syria and Russia’s part, the U.S. has declared that the ceasefire is still in place. This declaration was also made in the midst of the Syrian regime effectively stating that it would no longer honor a ceasefire.
In light of these recent developments, I think that U.S. foreign policy concerning Syria needs a reality check.
In June 2013, the U.S. announced that Syria had crossed a “red line” when the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own people. One would assume that violating international norms and standards would be met with harsh punishments from the international community.
This, however, was not the case in Syria. While Syria did hand over its declared stash of chemical weapons in 2014, there have been several reports since then of the Assad regime using chemical weapons on its own people. Regardless of method, there have been 301,781 documented human losses over the course of this war; there could possibly be many more undocumented deaths.
I believe that this, combined with the Assad regime’s disregard for the ceasefire that was in part negotiated by its Russian allies, is grounds for the international community to seriously reconsider how it handles Syria. Thus far, sanctions or punishments have proved ineffective in ending the violence within Syria.
In this conflict, each side, regime and rebels alike, have maximalist agendas. They will not cease fighting unless the other is effectively removed from whatever power they may hold in the country.
We would be remiss to overlook the role that Russia has played in this conflict. Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that it felt as though we were in a “parallel universe” in our relations with Russia concerning Syria. Considering that it seems that Russian warplanes bombed the humanitarian aid convoy earlier this week, it appears as though this is the case.
One must wonder then why the U.S. continues to work with such an unreliable partner in Russia. Following the attack on the aid convoy, the U.S. insists on following through with the ceasefire, despite Syrian and Russian opposition.
It is in this that the true failure of Western foreign policy is highlighted. The United States’ main concern in Syria is containing ISIS and other extremist organizations. However, as senior fellow at the Middle East Institute Charles Lister points out, these absolute diplomatic failures serve only to fuel the narratives of those radical groups.
When millions of civilians are made into refugees and hundreds of thousands are slaughtered while the world stands by and wrings its hands about what to do, we cannot be surprised when some choose to react violently.
To right the wrongs that have been allowed to happen in Syria, the international community must strongly consider using both hard and soft power. Military pressure has to be used to remove Assad from power. There will be no peace in Syria so long as Assad is at the helm. In order to undermine extremist sects that would undoubtedly attempt to hijack a regime, the international community must present itself as both a military and political ally. As it stands now, the international community is failing miserably on both fronts.
The Syrian civil war has been going on since 2011. During this time, the ineptitude of international diplomacy has been put on display. For the sake of Syrian citizens, and those who feel the quakes beyond Syria, this conflict must end. Our half-hearted attempts at diplomacy have achieved nothing but further entrenching the conflict, and this war will only get worse so long as we refuse to commit any serious effort to ending it.