This past weekend marked two years since a chemical attack on the Syrian neighborhood of Ghouta overwhelmed our social media feeds with horrifying picturesof thousands of men, women and children gasping for air like dying goldfish. After dying en masse from asphyxiation, they were unceremoniously stacked like human-shaped firewood in makeshift morgues.
In that two-year interlude, the international community has rallied around the cause of the Syrian people, who are trapped in an epic battle for survival against their increasingly out-of-touch dictator. Nation after nation have opened their wallets and their borders in a universal show of support for those fleeing the violence, giving emotional gravity and financial heft to the oft-repeated platitude ‘never again’.
Just kidding, none of that happened. Rather, in an unusual display of unanimity, the majority of world leaders have taken one look at Syria and immediately invoked the ‘Ostrich Rule’ of modern statecraft, burying their heads in the metaphorical sand until overcome by the reality of frenzied hordes at their doorstep, at which point fences are built. Is this futile? Definitely. But it is the collective strategy everyone seems to have agreed upon.
The United Nations, advocacy groups and human traffickers everywhere have exhausted all possible tactics to try and get politicians to care about Syrians fleeing a brutal and brutalizing conflict. Pictures of desperate families clambering ashore from overstuffed rubber dinghies are briefly fretted upon and quickly forgotten. Reports that Syrian government forces are bombing busy civilian marketplaces cannot compete with the media’s intrinsic need to cover the annual August spectacle of Lesser Celebrities on Yachts. Staggeringly high statistics (250,000 dead, 11millionpeople displaced) are impossible to consciously comprehend, and so flit by on our Facebook feeds, unheeded.
In the face of such deeply-held disregard, a new approach is clearly needed. If the world isn’t compelled to address the effects of Syria’s civil war because it is the ‘worst humanitarian disaster of our time‘, then perhaps it can be motivated by a much more primordial instinct: self-interest. The Syrian crisis is having a profoundly negative impact on events far beyond the besieged country’s immediate vicinity. If governments and policymakers won’t commit to finding a lasting political, diplomatic and military solution to Syria’s unrest because it is ‘the right thing to do’, perhaps they can be provoked into action out of inherent selfishness.
If you are the government of Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan, this is a no-brainer. Hosting millions of refugees is an expensive, stressful, and thankless job, and yourlittle corner of the world was already fairly rowdy. Save Syria to save yourself.
If you are the government of Greece, you’ve got snap elections and bailouts in the offing. Any expectations that you have formulated a strategy to deal with the 50,000 migrants and refugees that arrived on your shores in July 2015 alone are extremely unrealistic, and yet they persist. Solving the Syrian crisis means you can get back to political infighting and palace coups.
If you are the government of the United Kingdom, your middle-class, middle-aged holidaymakers are urgently looking to you for guidance. Where will they spend their newly unlocked pension funds if their island destination of choice is overrun by nearly-drowned asylum-seekers? The Daily Mail has deployed vast resources to ensure they get inflammatory quotes from sunburned Englishmen showing previously unimaginable levels of disdain for distressed-looking, brown-skinned people. Commit equal amounts of time and treasure to a negotiated settlement in Syria to avoid giving vacationing Brits an even worse reputation than they already have.
If you are the government of Germany, the recent announcement that you are expecting 800,000 asylum seekers this year effectively means providing temporary food and shelter for a city the size of San Francisco. They’re not all Syrians, but many of them are, and the instability in Syria has massive ripple effects throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Unfortunately, such humanitarian gestures are a hard sell in Western countries, and your populace will not be as disorganized, welcoming, or adaptable as the Lebanese, Turks or Jordanians. Fix Syria to avoid giving yourextremely unpalatable far-right groups another rallying cry.
If you are the government of the United States, the world is clamoring for leadership, and baffled by your absence on the global stage. Think of it this way: the political silly season started early, and is underway with a vengeance. Seizing the initiative on Syria will give journalists something to write about other than Donald Trump. For the love of God, engage.
If you are the government of Israel, your sizable Druze minority is restive and concerned about their Syrian brethren, and the chaos to the northeast could spill over your shared border at any time. If a solution for Syria is found, there’ll be more time to lobby against the #IranDeal and draw rudimentary infographics.
If you are the government of France, that whole Calais Jungle thing is a branding nightmare. It also gives your strike-prone workforce a very legitimate excuse to call for industrial action. The Brits are happy to let it be your problem–are you going to let them get away with that? Ending the bloodshed in Syria will let at least some of the migrants return home (which is what they want), and dial down the drama a notch or two.
The list goes on and on. Each member of the international community implored to do ‘something’ about Syria should do so for the greater good of humanity, but could just as easily do so motivated purely by self-interest. It doesn’t really matter why they do it, so long as it gets done. The Syrian crisis can’t solve itself, and those fleeing the violence have nowhere to go. Ignoring the problem has only made it worse. Are you with me? Yalla.