Syria: The 21st-Century Disaster

Syria may be the essential 21st-century mess.

Our guests, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have just published Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, a new people’s history of the civil war. They tell us that beneath a web of thorny conflicts — Sunni powers against Iran, Obama against Putin, interventionists against isolationists — the central story was quickly lost: a democratic uprising, against scarcity, corruption, and oppression, met with a scorched-earth crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, determined to retain power.

No matter how you look at this conflict that has displaced 10 million Syrians and taken hundreds of thousands of lives, there are grave regrets: the creation of ISIS, the reverberations of the Iraq war, American vacillation and meddling, and roads to peace not travelled (or even considered).

What might have been done, what might yet happen, and what is the lesson for the Middle East, the next president and the global community?

Guest List
Robin Yassin-Kassab
blogger, journalist co-author of Burning Country, and novelist of The Road From Damascus.
Leila Al-Shami
human rights activist and co-author of Burning Country.
Hugh Roberts
professor of North African and Middle Eastern history at Tufts University, and essayist for The London Review of Books.
Jeffrey Sachs
development economist, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and author most recently of To Move the World: JFK's Quest for Peace.

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  • Potter

    A lively conversation! Everybody is right. It was so clear way back when, that Assad, at all costs, was not giving a damn; he wanted this war to be the melee and sectarian fragmentation that this became because this was his only shot at surviving. Putin, who, yes, is entitled to have his ally, is responsible for death, destruction and increased refugee flow. The Syrian refugees are not running to Russia.

    So if we come to the same place that we could have come in 2012 ( in hindsight) if we had not missed opportunities for a ceasefire and solution, accepting Assad for the while, then this is even more depressing. To think that all this had to happen because of gross errors in judgement and the notion that bombing could makes things right. I have to say his is yet another instance where Hillary Clinton was not giving good advice. A Hillary Clinton presidency does not make me feel the Middle East would be better off for our involvement.

    Wonderful strong guests! Thank you.