All the pundits in the world are speaking endlessly about Syria now. There are almost 900 million articles globally referring to Syria on a regular basis. All the think tankers defend American inactions or actions, depending on the funding source of that think tank, or complain about the President, based on other funding sources. All assume that only military action is 'real action' but then warn that the military actions being taken will be inadequate or produce unpredictable chains of events.
The best is Eduard Luttwak who has pronounced that feeding and bleeding both sides of the war, letting neither side win, is his best advice to America to serve their and Israel's strategic interests. His argument is horrifying and yet has a certain amount of reasoned insanity to it.
He even argues that an indeterminate conclusion is what many Syrians want because most cannot survive either side winning militarily. But that is the point. Luttwak, and most other analysts, are caught in a web of militaristic thinking that has no winnable results. So a kind of insanity sets in with a coherent logic all its own. Luttwak's argument is the logical result of the military insanity that provoked this unwinnable contest with Assad's vast weapons system; it never should have become a violent and unwinnable war. As early as 2011 Wikileaks suggests that various governments were already training opposition forces in Syria for war. And it is apparent now that, as in Egypt, the nonviolent and reasonably democratic street revolution of 2010-2011 was overtaken by ex-soldiers bent on revenge against the regime, and supplied readily with arms and training by outside forces, as long as "God is Great" was on their lips every other sentence.
Meanwhile, back in the reality of human life, over 100 thousand are dead, 1.6 million forced to leave the country, 4.25 million fleeing their homes, and an entire civilization in ruins. Whole new cities of misery are arising out of the dust, such as the Zaatari camp in Jordan housing 178 thousand refugees and now the fourth largest city in Jordan. Now, after a horrific new threshold of chemical war against civilians, the United States is preparing its Cruise missiles.
Are there any responses to all this madness other than cruise missiles? The UN World Food Programme projects that they may need over 2 billion dollars a year to keep the Syrian people barely alive, and that is why the UN has made an unprecedented appeal for 5 billion dollars. Kuwait and other states are contributing and the United States has given over 800 million dollars thus far.
To be truly competitive with the unwinnable military options we must now inject not just food into the mouths of the innocent, but inject empowerment and preparation for a future into a dying and desperate people.
What was the engine that drove the Arab Spring in the first place? The yearning for freedom, empowerment and new civil societies. At the end of the day, all social change that is lasting, and that dwarfs militarized chaos, is the change that happens inside hearts and minds, the change that happens in between human beings of great diversity and difference.
The simple gesture of building a summer camp for refugee children, deeply engaging them with warmth, comfort, good will, is something our team has done this summer in Syria. It has entailed the cooperation of both religious and secular, Islamist and liberal, Christian and Muslim, men and women, all equally helping. They, like many other poorly funded efforts afoot, are modeling the only viable future that there is for Syria and the Middle East as a whole. They are modeling a shared space of political and religious diversity and difference, bonded by common civil commitments to nonviolent forms of conflict management.
Every project, every engagement with every person in the region that models and empowers that basic reality is one small step toward a different future. As usual, the funds it receives will pale by comparison to what the pundits in Washington believe are the only realistic options, like this brilliant one: just enough cruise missiles to save the face of America, while still keeping the killing system deadlocked. Well, if it is a choice between cruise missiles designed to save American face, and humanitarian missiles, I will take the humanitarian missiles any day. Civil society building is the one true way to save the face of the human community as they look on this monstrous Assad regime, a final product of Cold War rivalry, Gulf rivalry and a massive failure to bring Iran into the international community. Humanitarian missiles are the only ones that will ultimately smash the foundations of both brutal, corrupted regimes and corrupted jihadist enterprises jumping up and down for Gulf cash. All of them are illegitimate, but if you want to wipe them clean from history, try humanitarian missiles. They work.