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Mouna Ghanem

How the United States has failed Syria

Syrian children escape the rubble of a destroyed building in Eastern Ghouta [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 March, 2018

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Comment: The values the United States preaches; democracy and freedom, appear to matter little when it comes to Syria, writes Mouna Ghanem.
For years, the United States inspired many of us based in the Middle East with its values of democracy and freedom.

Growing up in Damascus, I was exposed to US culture through my extended family. I have fond memories of my first visit in 1983 aged 14, impressed by the tolerance and freedom of American society.

I have always thought of the US as a beacon of hope, but after at least half a million Syrian deaths and 13 million displacements since this war began, I am no longer sure it puts its values into practice.

The US has rarely played a constructive role in the Syrian war.

It has had some success in breaking IS strongholds in Raqqa and Deir az-Zour, albeit at a very heavy price. Both cities were destroyed and thousands of locals died in the process of being "liberated".

For the most part, instead of being actively focused on helping Syrians achieve peace, good governance and democracy, the US has ploughed money into training anti-Assad rebels, an approach which was clearly intended to target Russia rather than help support the people of Syria.

It was not until late last year that President Trump ended a $1 billion CIA programme of this type, which had been running for several years but failed to make any real impact.

Syrians are tired of being displaced and deprived of our political rights and freedom

In 2015, a similar $500 million Pentagon programme was also brought to an end for similar reasons. Billions of dollars have been spent on initiatives which had more to do with breaking Russia's support for government forces than with bringing peace and democracy to Syria.

Many of us had hoped that instead of fuelling internal divisions, the US could operate as a power-broker and build common ground with Russia and its allies on the future of Syria.

We were optimistic in 2015 when US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov agreed a potential ceasefire. We hoped this would usher in a new era of peace and even fresh elections at some point. However, it ultimately came to nothing - and even further entrenched the US-Russian conflict.

Since then, the US has continued to focus on what it considers eastern Syria. The Russian alliance with Turkey and Iran has focused on the west of the country. This has broken our land in two and created divisions which we will struggle to overcome.

The two forces have not worked together, which has made it close to impossible for the Syrian people - the main casualties throughout all of this - to build any sense of a peaceful path forward. For that to happen, we need all political groups and individuals from across Syria's territory and political spectrum to be included in a formal peace process.

Instead, we have been continuously bombed, displaced and excluded. We briefly hoped that things were improving at the end of last year, but instead the situation on the ground today is worse than ever before.

In January I attended a conference in Sochi, Russia with 1,500 other Syrian participants.

For once, the motivation for this event was to create a space for the Syrian people to take control of our own political process.

It should have been a turning point. 

The process of how we build peace and re-construct our society and constitution, is as important as the results of this work. However, it turned into yet another missed opportunity as the US refused to attend, meaning that any potential for a successful outcome could only be partial.

We are overwhelmed with grief following the deaths of so many of our family members

Syrians are tired of being displaced and deprived of our political rights and freedom. We are overwhelmed with grief following the deaths of so many of our family members. We all want to end terrorism in Syria.

But if we are ever to bring an end to this debilitating war, we must begin to focus on what is best for Syria, enabling us to be the architects of our own democratic futures. Fuelling artificial divisions simply causes damage that it could take many generations to undo.

 

Mouna Ghanem is founder of the Syrian Women's Forum for Peace, which partners with international women's group, Donor Direct Action.

Follow her on Twitter: @mounaghanem

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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