Editorial: War in Syria shows no good outcome for drawn-out agony

The Syrian civil war has entered its end game and it is as gruesome and fraught as any stretch in the hellish nine-year struggle. As the Syrian troops of Bashar Assad, backed by Russia, move to clear the last rebel-held enclave in northwestern Syria, some 900,000 civilian refugees — more than half of them children — have been pushed against the Turkish border in the freezing cold.
More, the battle for the city of Idlib has embroiled Turkey, threatening a direct clash between a NATO power and Russia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has threatened to block the Syrian advance militarily, and Thursday two Turkish soldiers were killed in a Russian airstrike inside Syria.
If the Syrian-Russian drive continues, it stands to send thousands more refugees toward the border. Turkey is already burdened by almost 4 million Syrian refugees, whose presence is increasingly becoming a political liability for Erdogan.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, has described a “devastating scale of humanitarian suffering” in Idlib in an anguished appeal for the U.N. Security Council to call a cease-fire. But with the Trump administration showing little appetite for any involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts, and Europe effectively sidelined, Russia, Syria and Turkey are calling the shots. And neither Syria nor Russia has demonstrated concern for human suffering in a war in which Assad has made little distinction between rebels and civilians.
The United States actively supported rebel groups in the first years of the civil war and later focused on crushing the Islamic State group in Syria. But once the Islamic State group was effectively defeated, President Donald Trump began reducing American involvement. In October, Trump ignited controversy when he pulled American forces out of the Kurdish-controlled zone in northeastern Syria, leaving the Kurds vulnerable to Turkish attacks.
The president tweeted at the time that it was “very smart not to be involved” in the fighting. And while abandoning the Kurds was broadly criticized, the sentiment was evidently shared by many Americans as Syrian government troops, supported by Russian air power and Iranian militias, steadily routed the dizzying array of rebel and jihadi forces and their ever-shifting alliances.
The battle for Idlib, the latest and possibly last battle of the Syrian civil war, has attracted little attention in the West, particularly in an America embroiled in domestic political struggles. Syria did not rate a mention in the latest Democratic debate, which almost entirely ignored the rest of the world.
A cease-fire is essential, primarily to help the refugees and the civilians still in Idlib but also to prevent an escalation between Turkey and Russia and to facilitate the start of negotiations to put a formal end to the war. Russia and Turkey have cut deals before in Syria, and they are talking now, though without any results so far. Nudging them toward an agreement is where American, European and U.N. efforts should be focused.
Erdogan’s main immediate interest in the Idlib fight is to prevent the mass of refugees from crossing into Turkey. But he is also apparently trying to gain some leverage for postwar negotiations to ensure that the Kurds in northeastern Syria are kept away from Turkey. Working all angles, Erdogan has tried to cultivate a close relationship with Vladimir Putin, including a purchase of Russian missile defense systems that angered the U.S., while threatening military action against Russian-backed Syrian forces.
At this stage of this tragic war there is no good outcome, given the near certainty of Assad’s victory, and however he may maneuver and fulminate, Erdogan does not have a strong hand. His options are to try a counteroffensive, where Russia’s air power would be decisive; or do nothing, which would potentially drive 1 million more refugees into Turkey; or try to cut as good a deal as he can get.
Given the horror of this war, just putting an end to the shooting and preventing another humanitarian disaster would be progress.

Source: https://www.myjournalcourier.com/opinion/article/Editorial-War-in-Syria-shows-no-good-outcome-for-15084870.php


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