Headlines have chronicled several recent developments in Syria:
- US efforts to train fighters from rebel groups opposed to Syria's current government have failed;
- Russia has employed aircraft and cruise missile against ISIS;
- US munitions, intended for rebel groups, appear to have fallen into the wrong hands;
- ISIS' grip on significant portions of Syria and Iraq remains strong in spite of an extensive bombing campaign by the US and its allies that in the last year exceeded the amount of ordnance dropped by air in either Iraq or Afghanistan during a five-year period.
In sum, efforts both to displace Assad have stalled and to eliminate ISIS as a major force in the Middle East have failed. Indeed, the US and its allies appear to be achieving results that are the opposite of their goals: instead of contributing to the establishment of peace, well-intentioned but misdirected efforts are exacerbating violence, instability, and harming thousands.
Concerned individuals and groups can contribute to building peace in Syria and the Middle East by advocating that governments adopt policies and programs designed to bring security and stability, diminish violence, and improve the quality of life for people who might otherwise join the flood tide of Middle Eastern refugees.
Among the positive actions that the US and its allies might take in the Middle East are:
(1) Weighing non-combatant safety and security more heavily in decisions to authorize airstrikes (even persons opposed to any use of military force should be able to support this diminution of violence);
(2) Creating a Syrian "no fly" zone to limit the ability of Assad's regime to harm or intimidate its citizens;
(3) Debunking the myth that better training or arms will compensate for the widespread corruption and lack of commitment among Iraqi security forces;
(4) Adequately funding and safeguarding refugee camps in and around Syria;
(5) Supporting quality of life and self-determination efforts of people in the Middle East.
Advocating these or other moves need not presume either the expertise or prerogative to prescribe solutions. Instead, concerned individuals and groups can best function as catalysts who try to keep governments energetically focused on building secure, stable communities, diminishing violence, and improving people's quality of life.