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The President's Take

The President’s Take | Syria and Venezuela in CrisisWatch

Our President Robert Malley's monthly column to accompany the CrisisWatch conflict tracker for February/March 2018 looks at how outside actors are now openly fighting over Syria, not for Syria. He also flags more bad news from Venezuela, and our upcoming report on what to do about it.

Had I been writing this monthly column since 2011, Syria could well have figured every month since. Many bear responsibility for what’s become a war without end for a people without hope – myself included, in my former official capacity in the U.S. White House. It begins with the brutality of a regime intent on maintaining power at all costs, and ranges from the projection of regional and international power struggles, to outside actors’ inability or unwillingness to separate humanitarian (civilian protection) from political (regime change) ends, to the mingling of rebels and jihadists.

This past month, the tragedy took two more bloody turns: on the one hand, the siege and pummeling of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Eastern Ghouta; on the other, the pivot to a now open confrontation among outside actors fighting not for Syria, but over it – Israel against Iran and Hizbollah; Turkey against the Kurds; the U.S. against Russians (and against Iran, and the regime). Moscow could, should, but (as of this writing, the UN Security Council resolution notwithstanding) appears unlikely to do much to end the former or defuse the latter. As for the U.S. current role in lowering risks of violence, our CrisisWatch entry doesn’t say much about it, because for now there is not much to say, which of course is saying a lot.

The humanitarian disaster afflicting Venezuela is the second crisis that struck me this month. Here, a regime also desperate to maintain its hold on power has visited a different type of misery on its people. The economy is collapsing, millions have fled, hunger is spreading, diseases once thought to be things of the past have been resurrected – all in a country that boasts one of the world’s largest oil reserves. A forthcoming Crisis Group report details the humanitarian toll and how it threatens neighbouring countries. It suggests a way forward: both for getting aid into the country despite the regime’s reluctance to allow in humanitarian groups; and for Latin American governments, for the most part united in condemning the regime, to up pressure and force it back into meaningful talks with its opponents. Short of that, the economic free-fall and regional spillover will endure and worsen, with devastating consequences for all.

Go to CrisisWatch