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Syria three years on

Let’s not forget that the Syrian uprising-turned-horror is now entering its fourth year with no end in sight.

It’s appropriate that the US Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement to mark the depressing anniversary.

The conflict in Syria is not simply a civil war between opposing armed forces. What started as a democratic uprising has now become an overtly sectarian conflict in which civilians are targeted for atrocities based upon their religious and ethnic identity. Members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority are bearing the brunt of the Syrian government’s massive campaign of crimes against humanity and war crimes, while some of the forces opposing the regime have committed abuses and atrocities against members of Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities.

The uprising’s transformation into a sectarian conflict has seen a dramatic rise in the civilian death toll: more than one-third of the estimated 140,000 killed have been civilians—including over 11,000 children. As sectarian violence becomes more widespread and systematic, there is increasing danger that it could escalate to genocide.
“In 2005, the nations of the world agreed that they have the responsibility to protect all peoples from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing,” said Michael Chertoff, chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, which guides the Center for the Prevention of Genocide. “Fulfilling this responsibility toward the Syrian people is both a moral obligation and a national security interest of the United States.”

In view of the recent events in Ukraine, it should surprise nobody that Bashar al-Assad’s brutal grip on power has been sustained largely with the military and diplomatic assistance of one Vladimir Putin.

And while I think President Obama’s approach to Russia’s aggression in Crimea has been as good as can be expected under the circumstances, I can’t say the same about his policy toward Syria. His refusal to provide enough aid to strengthen the non-extremist elements of the Syrian opposition, his blundering and confused response to the Syrian regime’s murderous chemical weapons attack last summer, amount to the worst failure of his administration.