There seems to be no end to the troubles Syria faces. To date, over a tenth of Syria’s population have been killed or wounded. The impact of the violence is horrific: most starkly seen in numbers, as the life expectancy has dropped from 70 in 2010 to 55 today.Drone footage captures the extent of Syria’s destruction. The violence will be felt generationally in the terrible heritage experienced by its children. Over half of the population has been displaced–6.3 million inside Syria’s borders, and over 4 million abroad. (Most of these are in nearby countries.)
What might 2016 hold for this beleaguered nation and its people?
Russia’s foreign minister suggested three scenarios.
1. a negotiated peace agreement.
2. military victory by the Syrian army.
3. a larger, regional war, with multiple foreign countries taking part.
Unfortunately, the peace talks were most recently postponed by the fighting around Aleppo, as the opposition said it would not participate until all bombing had ceased. In “14 Hard Truths on Syria,” Max Fisher provides a concise outline of the complexities involved. In this, he (also) notes the peace talk scenario is “basically doomed”–(a) there is no mutually acceptable position for the parties, (b) the Middle East powers are less interested in an end to the war or the defeat of ISIS than in positioning themselves against each other, and (c) aside from the limited involvement of the West right now, no Western power wants to commit in a huge way.
The only solution really acceptable to the opposition would be the removal of Assad. Doing so would be costly, and would not magically solve all issues overnight (see: Libya). So while Russia identifies three scenarios (peace, Syrian victory, larger war), there is a fourth reality:stalemate–a “mini-World War” in which local groups are backed by regional powers just enough to keep the fighting going but not enough to spark a bigger regional event or enough to finish it off. And this is where Syria is, at present. Studies Fisher cites suggest that civil wars typically last about a decade (longer when foreign powers intervene).
This, of course, is the worst of all scenarios: continuous fighting, devastation, destruction, and death.
From the available data, this terrible trendline seems to me the most likely. For a very long period of time, we will be facing the reality of devastation in Syria, refugees from the conflict knocking on the doors of Europe, America and the West, and the need for the church to articulate a response.
We can urge for the “Syrian problem” to be “kept over there” – or the church can find ways to locally or strategically, systematically engage in blessing the refugees. Our response may very well shape the opinion of Christians held by the next generation of Syrians.
- “How the current conflicts are shaping the future of Syria and Iraq.” Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND. “The fighting is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The contest has become less political and more existential for its participants. Yearnings for peace may be universal, but none of the belligerants can imagine surviving under rule by their foes… Foreign powers in the region and beyond have significant stakes… but absent large-scale direct military interventions, which can easily backfire, none of the foreign powers can guarantee… triumph or… ensure defeat.”
- “Seven scenarios for the future of Syria,” 2013. Assad victory (less likely in the near future, more likely in the long), Good rebel victory, Bad rebel victory, Stalemate (“at this point, a stalemate is very likely”), country breakup, regional conflict, chaos (xref: Somalia).
- “Syria’s future will be decided by ground troops. But whose?” Michael Clarke, The Guardian, 2015. But if no one is willing to commit ground troops, then…
- “Six predictions about what will happen in Syria.” James Gelvin, HistoryNewsNetwork.com. A dismal outlook, but one that agrees with nearly every other analysis.