5 years after the start of the Syrian Civil War, 500,000 people are dead and 4.9 million people who have fled their homes are now considered refugees. Chemical weapons have been used against civilians. The 3rd biggest city in Jordan is now a refugee camp and 1 out of every 3 people in Lebanon is a refugee.
Thousands of moving and deeply personal stories have been posted online and brought a face to this tragedy. You can view them right now and you've been able to for years. Horrifying photos have gone viral, been given the top awards in photojournalism, and still nothing has persuaded the American people that this is a situation that deserves their attention.
It's a tale of human nature and simple geography. We care less about the things that are far away and the people we have no connection with, than we do about the people in our community and the things that are in front of our face. It's understandable with Donald Trump threatening to destroy not only Hillary Clinton, but the GOP and American Democracy while he is at it, that you would struggle to pay attention to anything that wasn't about that moronic ape.
The question then becomes: Is there anything that will cause you to start caring about Syria? If Donald Trump has to shut up in order for anything about Syria to break through in the news coverage, then you might be waiting a long time. Because unless Hillary decides to lock him up, then he might be around screaming horrible things through the TV screen that keep you watching like a hypnotized fool walking their way off of a cliff that's been in front of them for ages. Keep in mind that this war has been going on way way before Trump was a Presidential contender, and Americans still tuned into the missing Malaysian Airline flight every night on CNN , but would not pay anywhere close to that level of attention to the war in Syria for over five years.
So, I am going to try an different approach. I don't think Americans are ignoring Syria because they don't have a heart, but because they are missing the connection of why it also impacts their communities, and their neighborhoods. Americans need to understand why it matters what happens next in Syria and why this should be dominating the news coverage. Humans aren't heartless, they are just short sighted. Everyone needs a way to connect to it a bit further, and for some reason the numbers, the facts, the videos, and the photos haven't done that yet on the scale that is needed.
So here are 4 things that might make you care about the Syrian Civil War:
Tiniest World War With a Possibility of Expansion
The first thing that most Americans do not recognize, is how many groups and nations are involved in Syria either through direct action or by sponsoring and arming aligned groups. This has created a proxy war in the middle of a civil war in the middle of a terrorist group expansion in the middle of an region that is on the verge of all out war. Just the entanglement of alliances and outside forces have caused many scholars and pundits to make allusions to World War II. And if there is anything that will get Americans interested in a topic, it for some reason is allusions to World War II.
Comparisons can be made to the refugee migration after in the 1930s Germany became an unsafe place to live for anyone who doesn't look like Macaulay Culkin. Jewish people, Roma, Russians, and communists were fleeing eastern Europe by the droves looking to places like the United States as a safe refuge. Today it is Muslims, Christians, and anyone south of the Euphrates who are leaving everything in the middle of the night - their homes, their jobs, their entire lives - in hope that they can once again rebuild in a safer community and eventually one day, return home.
Americans should understand that just as in World War II, not only was there a threat of genocide, but Americans themselves were unable to avoid conflict.
As of today, Russian relations have not been this bad since the Soviet Union. The Obama administration cut off diplomatic ties to Russia over Syria, a move that should have shocked the nation, but instead was drowned out by the fact that Trump tweeted at 3:14AM in the morning. This suspension of diplomatic ties destroys what used to be a US-Russian alliance created to fight of the Islamic State into two superpowers backing different groups in the middle of an increasingly complicated map. Syria has lit the fuse between the US and Russia as cyber attacks have escalated, more sanctions have been put on the Russian economy and Russian oligarchs, and the situation in Ukraine has continued to fan fears of Russian expansion throughout Europe.
Americans don't seem to care about those 200,000 to 300,000 people still trapped in the city of Aleppo, but maybe if they understand the larger picture of an escalating U.S.-Russia feud and the fact Syria has been the cause of most of that escalation, then they will begin to demand more concrete solutions than "Aleppo has already fallen" and "Assad has got to go"
When Refugee Camps Open, They Rarely Close
100,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon because of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and were not allowed to return. As of January 2016, there are 452,669 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Depending on how many Syrian civilians are able to/want to return to Syria, we may have massive refugee camps - that were only built to be temporary - that will last for decades. These refugee camps will only continue to expand as new babies are born and new families are created putting tremendous stress on the resources themselves.
There is only one solution to this massive refugee problem, and everyone has known it is since the start of this war. The only way to solve the refugee crisis is for Syrians to be able to go home to Syria and start a new life. That requires an end to war, an end to violence, and concessions made on both sides, but even if that miracle was able to come out of diplomatic talks that no longer exist, the economy is in ruins.
Unfortunately, in 2009 (before the start of the war) the Syrian economy was primarily a service and tourism based economy with agriculture and mining making up the rest. As you can imagine service and tourism took a steep decline as bombing campaigns, rebel groups, and ISIS began to make up daily life. In order for return to look like a reality there needs to be a quick end to a war and a faster re-investment.
If that doesn't happen, expect to see refugee camps opened for the next 50 years after this war. Refugee camps hold people who left everything behind, have no contacts in their country, and often face harsher discrimination than any other group. In Lebanon, those who have registered with the UNHCR (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees) are labelled as a refugee and therefore barred from renting an apartment, holding a job, buying a house, using government services like libraries and and parks. They are unable to stay in certain cities, and they will be caught in this cycle of poverty unless something is done to break the cycle.
There are people still there
Most Americans only really engage with Syria in two ways: ISIS and Refugees. Although these two things are important, it glosses over the fact remains that the majority of Syrians impacted by this conflict are still in Syria. In the fight for Aleppo alone there is over 200,000 to 300,000 civilians still within the city. With nearly 10 million people still in their homes and 6.6 million internally displaced in Syria, there is still tremendous risk of civilian causalities and risk of a huge rise in the refugee crisis.
This should cause most Americans to realize that there is still a lot at stake in this civil war, and a lot more that can happen. If you are currently worried about some of the statistics and problems surrounding refugees, then you should be petrified at the thought of a country-wide collapse of Syria.
The Cold War
Not turned on by the World War II allusions, well then maybe you'll get excited about the Cold War
Much of this conflict circles around old territories of the Cold War. U.S. had Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey as major allies in the region while the Soviet Union aligned with Iran and Syria. This matters quite a bit because of the escalated tensions developed with Russia over Syria and elevated this towards a proxy war much like we saw throughout the Cold War.
There are a few ways that Russia and the United States fought over influence during the cold war. Sometimes it would be proxy wars, other times it would be arming a rebel group within a country to institute regime change, and most commonly these nations bought their loyalty with massive military packages. The 3rd option might have to wait until the dust settles, but after the war Syria's allegiance might depend on how well the economy is doing, who is still in power, and who is willing to pay up.
America might have a chance to pay for that re-investment and it should. Rebuilding places like South Korea, Germany, Japan, Israel, Egypt after their wars and conflicts proved to be not only a smart move militarily, but economically as well as they became large trading partners. Russia has an incredibly weak economy right now, and Iran is still too small to carry the weight of re-investment. Syria will be looking to sell its love, and America should be looking to buy. Not only are we responsible for much of a power-vacuum in the region, we could start rebuilding the Middle East so threats like ISIS and Al-Qaeda do not find so many former footholds to take over.
Syria matters, but there is a hesitation among Americans to treat this issue like it does. If the photos, videos, connections to Russia, the extent of the refugee crisis, and the possible threat to civilians that every day this war continues on does not move you, then I am not sure what else will.
Our most read article is one about Bernie Sanders becoming Senate Majority leader. I think it's a good article, but everyone needs to understand that there is more to this world than American politics. Important things are happening. Devastating things are happening. If you promise to read our coverage of issues like Syria, then we promise to keep writing.