Syria before and after

Syria before and after

This week, we mark the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of Syria's catastrophic civil war.


As the Arab Spring brought protesters into streets across the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011, some of Syria's 22 million people decided to join in. Pro-democracy demonstrations began in the southwestern city of Deraa.

It wasn't crazy at the time to imagine that President Bashar al-Assad, in power since 2000, might step beyond the brutal legacy of his father, the dictator Hafez al-Assad, to open a period of reform that created new opportunities, particularly for his country's youth.

Instead, he answered protests with guns. Demonstrations multiplied across the country and turned violent. Into the resulting maelstrom stepped Assad's allies, Russia and Iran, to protect their investment in his continued rule. The US dithered, half-heartedly supporting some rebel groups but mostly staying away.

Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen backed the Syrian army. Well-armed Syrian Kurds saw an opportunity to win greater autonomy by weakening Assad. Fundamentalist extremists of various tribes joined the fight. Turkey sent soldiers, and Saudi Arabia provided cash and weapons to destabilize Assad. Western powers intervened to try to contain the carnage.

Assad's army — with backing from its friends — bombed hospitals, tortured prisoners, and used chemical weapons against civilians. The Obama administration warned these crimes crossed a "red line" but did virtually nothing to enforce it. In total, years of shooting, shelling, and bombing has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians, about 22,000 of them children.

The war is now over, though the Syrian army hasn't recaptured all its northern provinces. Assad has won because those with the deadliest weapons were willing to commit atrocities to survive, and because outsiders did far too little to stop them.

The cost

Today, more than half the 22 million people living in Syria in 2011 have been forced from their homes. Six million are now in other countries. Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan host more than 90 percent of these refugees.

Of those who weren't able to escape, thousands have been murdered inside Syrian prisons, and tens of thousands more prisoners remain missing, according to a report from the UN Human Rights Council. An untold number of people still living in Syria suffer from untreated emotional and psychological damage.

About 70 percent of Syrians now live in poverty. Before the war began, 47 Syrian pounds bought one US dollar. The official price stands today at about 1,250 pounds. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that 30 percent of women have no income at all to support their families, and about 80 percent of Syrian youth struggle to afford food.

An entire generation of Syrian children faces an uncertain future. In 2017, a report from the International Rescue Committee found that a third of Syria's children don't go to school. Of those who continue their studies, half of middle school-aged children were unable to read at a second-grade level, and nearly 60 percent couldn't solve a second-grade math problem.

Then there's the physical wreckage. Today's Syria lies beneath millions of tons of rubble. Roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals have been destroyed, and there's little money to rebuild them.

And Assad, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, remains in charge.

Syria's frozen future

For the foreseeable future, life in Syria isn't going to improve from today's uneasy quiet. Russia and Iran got the outcome they wanted and now, burdened with COVID costs and Western sanctions, they have better things to spend money on than rebuilding Syria.

Europe and the United States will direct humanitarian assistance toward suffering Syrians, but they won't finance the reconstruction of a country led by Assad.

A few Syrian refugees will return, but most believe they're better off where they are and fear retribution if they go home.

Bottom-line: John Milton's fallen angel famously declared that it's "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." One wonders whether Assad agrees.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

More Show less

Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

More Show less

Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

More Show less

When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Can "the Quad" constrain China?

Viewpoint