The cost of inaction

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes a position behind piled sandbags as he aims his weapon near the Justice Palace, which is controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo March 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Mahmoud Hebbo)

This week’s grim anniversary of the Syrian uprising is an opportunity for some to talk about the “failure” of the outside world to end the bloody conflict, but a contrary assessment is just as valid.

Naturally, the standard interpretation cites incidents of failure: the ban on sophisticated weapons for the armed opposition, long before hard-line Islamists expanded their influence; international conferences and meetings that have issued largely toothless threats and ultimatums; the absence of serious, behind-the-scenes diplomacy; and the inability to treat an exploding refugee crisis.

But while these are termed failures, there are those in the West and the international community who are extremely happy to use a shortsighted calculus of “success.”

Russia and Iran are bogged down in a costly mission to safeguard their interests. The Israelis are seeing, at no cost to them, the wholesale destruction of their northern neighbor and its stockpiles of chemicals and chemical weapons. The growing clout of Islamist ultra-extremists is another “winner” – the West can verbally focus on this threat, and avoid the messier task of helping Syrians who are desperate for meaningful political change.

In fact, there are countries whose leaders are reaping benefits from the war in Syria, without having to send any troops or any significant “game-changing” sums of money to bring about a conclusion to the conflict.

These sides have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in aiding and abetting the methodical devastation of an entire people and one of the world’s cradles of civilization – at practically no cost to themselves.

In the end, the outside world hasn’t learned the lesson that in some cases, doing nothing merely seems smart until something unimaginably worse comes along.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 13, 2014, on page 7.




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