Time International - 02.03.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1
Time March 2–9, 2020

His leg had been severed in an airstrike.
He’d begged them to bring it with them as
they fled, in the hope that it could somehow
be reattached.
At the time, I hoped that stories like
his might force the world’s rich and mighty
countries to intervene to stop the violence.
But now, nearly a decade later, it strikes
me as a metaphor for the Syrian conflict it-
self: the shattered innocence of a generation
of children; the irreversible damage inflicted
upon a secular, multiethnic society; and the
years of pleas for help that have
gone unanswered.
I’ve been to the Syrian region some 10 times
since the conflict began. At first, the families
I met were hopeful. They said, “Please, tell
people what is happening to us,” trusting that
once the truth was
known, the world
would come to their
rescue. But hope
curdled into anger
and the struggle
for survival: the
anger of the father
who held his baby
up to me, asking,
“Is this a terrorist?
Is my son a terror-
ist?” and the pain of
families I met who
faced daily choices
about which of their children would get scarce
food and medicine.
We’ve seen countless images of Syrian chil-
dren asphyxiated by gas, maimed by shrapnel,
drowned on the shores of Europe or—as
I write— freezing to death in the cold of Syria’s
Idlib province. None of it has been enough to
override the brutal indifference of the compet-
ing forces and interests contributing to the de-
struction of Syria.
Far from healing Syria’s wounds, the
response of some external powers has been
to inflict further injuries, bloodying their
hands in the process. Other countries have
focused on the fight against terrorism or on
the humanitarian relief effort, while the war
itself has bled ever more fiercely.
Laws prohibiting the killing of civil-
ians, the bombing of hospitals and schools,
or mass rape; treaties banning the use of
chemical attacks; the Responsibility to Pro-
tect pact, signed by U.N. member states; the
Security Council’s powers to act to stop a
conflict—the U.N. Charter itself—all lie bro-
ken, unused or misused in the Syrian conflict.

Since 2014, the U.N. has been unable to count
the dead in Syria. Some estimate that over
half a million Syrians have died.

politicians often imply that we face a
choice between open-ended military and dip-
lomatic interventions of the kind we’ve seen
in Iraq and Afghanistan, and leaving other
countries to fend for themselves, sending
whatever amount of humanitarian aid we’re
willing to supply, and sealing ourselves off.
Syria is proof that a lack of leadership and
diplomacy has consequences.
It also raises fundamental questions for us
as Americans: When did we stop wanting to
stand up for the underdog, for the innocent,
for those fighting for their human rights?
And what kind of country would we be if we
abandoned that
principle? There
is a lot of focus in
America today on
self- preservation.
But peace is almost
always fought for
hardest by those
who really under-
stand war. His-
tory shows that
when we fought
for the libera-
tion of Europe in
World War II, or
contributed to building the postwar global
order, we did so for our own interests—and
we reaped the benefits. When America was
attacked on 9/11, many countries made com-
mon cause with us because we had earned
their friendship.
We’re watching the brutal endgame of the
war in Syria as if it has little to do with us. But
it does. We should be using our diplomatic
power to insist on a cease-fire and a negoti-
ated peace based on at least some measure of
political participation, accountability and the
conditions for the safe return of refugees.
The alternative is that Syria stands as an
infamous new reference point for the brutal-
ity and destruction that it is possible to inflict
with impunity upon a civilian population—
and it will fall on the already loaded shoul-
ders of the next generation to rebuild a shat-
tered international system.

Jolie, a TIME contributing editor, is an
Academy Award–winning actor and special
envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees. Her views are her own

Syrian civilians flee Idlib on Feb. 13

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