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Masters of War in Syria and Iraq

DENVER – The Middle East’s tragic tale of two cities – Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – speaks to a fundamental lack of consensus in the region and within the broader international community. The lack of order in the international order is greatly complicating the task of bringing these conflicts to an end.

When the bloody conflict finally ends in Syria, there will be no victory parades, no moment of national catharsis. More likely than not, what there will be is a political arrangement that leaves Syria within its current borders but with local autonomy that reflects the diversity and – at least for the time being – the mutual distrust of its various ethnic and religious groups. No one will be happy. The accoutrements of a civil state do not exist, and there are no institutions around which to build social consensus or the rule of law.

Until these broad principles can be articulated, the war will never be truly over. Ceasefires work best – and hold the longest – when the combatants finally understand that a set of principles agreed by the broader international community will be the basis for shaping the future of their country.

The Syrian war is not unprecedented in the region. The Lebanese Civil War was even longer: from 1975 to 1990, that war produced a similar number of casualties and refugees, and when all is said and done, probably a similar number of unsuccessful ceasefires. The Syrian civil war is not yet even half the length of that horrific struggle; but nor is there any sign that the various combatants are fatigued by it.