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.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

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