After seven years, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and the displacement of millions of refugees, the world seems to have grown bored with trying to end Syria's civil war. United Nations resolutions come and go without ever being implemented. Foreign governments, including Canada's, denounce the violence according to whose side they're on. And the carnage goes on.
The longer the conflict endures, the harder it becomes to end it. There are so many foreign actors involved in Syria now, with so many competing objectives and shifting allegiances, that what started out as a hopeful democratic uprising threatens to inflame the entire Middle East and force a showdown between the West and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Putin is acting in concert with Iran in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who continues to get away with using chemical weapons on civilians despite the countless red lines of Western world leaders, including the previous and current U.S. presidents and the current French one. Mr. al-Assad was supposed to have been dispossessed of his chemical arsenal under a deal brokered between Russia and former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry. But The New York Times reported Wednesday that, according to UN investigators, North Korea has been supplying the Syrian President with what he needs to continue his chemical attacks in exchange for the cash it needs to continue extending the range and accuracy of its nuclear-capable missiles.
Iran is using Syria as a launching pad for drone attacks on Israel, which is in turn bombing Iranian berths in Syria. Turkey is attacking Syrian Kurds in the north whom it considers terrorists but who are aligned with U.S. forces in combatting the Islamic State in the region. Iran is relying on Hezbollah militia from Lebanon and Shiite mercenaries from Iraq to fight on the ground in Syria on its and Mr. al-Assad's behalf against rebels who may or may not be aligned with al-Qaeda, depending on whom you believe. What is clear is that that the innocent civilians caught between them all in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus are being indiscriminately killed by Syrian and Russian bombs.
The world has witnessed the same scenario play out elsewhere in Syria. We said never again. But it has happened again and again. The death toll now approaches half a million.
The UN Security Council adopted another resolution on Saturday calling for a 30-day cease fire across Syria. "Eastern Ghouta cannot wait," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted on Monday after the truce failed to take hold. "It's high time to stop this hell on earth."
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking the same day before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, made no mistake about whom Canada blames for this humanitarian crisis. "The Assad regime's callous disregard for human life is made possible by the support of Syria's allies, Russia and Iran," she said. "They bear a moral responsibility for the regime's crimes."
But the Liberal government has limited Canada's military role in the region to training Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State and delivering fuel and cargo to the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition. That job is largely complete, with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently declaring victory over the Islamic State.
Progress against IS in Syria has come in spite of Russia, the top U.S. general in the Middle East said Monday. "Diplomatically and militarily, Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter, fuelling tensions among all parties in Syria … then serving as an arbitrator, to resolve disputes, attempting to undermine and weaken each party's bargaining positions," Joseph Votel said.
Diplomatically, there is not much that Canada can offer to broker a peace in Syria, especially given the history of antagonism between Ms. Freeland and Mr. Putin. The Russian President is not ready to deal anyway. Mr. al-Assad has gone rogue on him several times. And Mr. al-Assad is the key to Mr. Putin controlling Syria's oil and gas reserves.
The Feb. 7 attack on a Kurdish-held oil field only deepened the mystery surrounding Russia's motives and tactics. The Washington Post reported that the attack, which was repelled by U.S. strikes, was carried out by Russian mercenaries employed by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and executed with Kremlin approval. Mr. Prigozhin was also one of 13 Russians indicted the following week by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller for trying to illegally influence the 2016 U.S. election.
When will the world figure out that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria?