There’s a Right Way to End Syria’s War

The New Special Envoy Must Not Allow Russia to Protect Assad

A man stands in a building damaged by what activists said were air strikes from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo, December 2013 Stringer / REUTERS

Earlier this month, Geir Pedersen, Norway’s ambassador to China and a former permanent representative to the United Nations, was appointed special envoy on the Syria conflict. He replaces the veteran Italian-Swedish negotiator Staffan de Mistura, who for four years tried but failed to end the bloody civil war.

Syria has been brutalized for nearly eight years now. Eight years is the lifetime of a third-grade child. It is also two years longer than the total duration of World War II. And in those last two years, instead of winding down as all of its actors have grown exhausted, Syria’s crisis has actually escalated.

The effect on Syrian society has been catastrophic. The rising generation has known nothing but war. Six million people are displaced inside the country, and five million more have left as refugees. Nearly 14 million—out of a prewar population of 22 million—need humanitarian assistance. Syria is a burning country that has been starved, chemically assaulted, and bombed into submission in nearly all of the former opposition areas except Idlib, the final piece in the puzzle that Bashar al-Assad seeks to conquer. The human rights abuses—which include mass incarceration, torture, and rape, as well as chemical weapons attacks against civilians and starvation as a tool of war—are among the worst I have ever seen in three decades of conflict analysis and reporting.

Unless the war in Syria is halted soon, it will become something like the conflict that started in 1975 in Lebanon. That war lasted 17 years and destroyed a country, leaving more than 150,000 dead and tens of thousands displaced. If Syria’s war continues that long, there won’t be many people left in the country to kill.

No one really knows how many have died in Syria so far. The UN stopped counting the dead in 2016, but estimates are somewhere near half a million, if not more. Lebanon—just one of many affected neighboring countries—has taken in more than 1.5 million Syrians, nearly exhausting

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