Still better than nothing

Yesterday I laid out what I think was a pretty pessimistic analysis of the Syrian ceasefire. I think it’s doomed to fail and think that it could fail in spectacular fashion, by giving Bashar al-Assad the equivalent of an international seal of approval to continue his campaign to end the Syrian civil war by killing every Syrian he finds.

That said, I don’t understand this argument, even though I’ve seen it made a few times in relation to this agreement:

“Under these circumstances, a cessation of hostilities in Syria is at best a well-intentioned wish, at worst a tragic farce,” Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote. “The fighting will not stop, threatening to undermine the credibility of diplomacy altogether.”

This is the “negotiations will do more harm than good” argument, and it’s not new. Back in November Michael O’Hanlon was pushing it, which maybe should say all that needs to be said about the argument in general. But here’s why I can’t buy into it: people are starving to death inside Syria right now. That’s actually happening as I write this. Everything else about this argument, about doomed ceasefires and empowering Assad and “undermining the credibility of diplomacy” (?), that stuff is all, at some level or another, hypothetical.

Syrian towns and cities under siege. You can just about add Aleppo to this map as well at this point. (BBC)

We don’t know that this ceasefire will fail, we don’t know that it will empower Assad and Russia to keep killing Syrians…we don’t know anything about how this ceasefire will work until and unless it’s implemented. We may be pretty sure how it’s going to play out, but that’s not the same thing. On the other hand, we do know that Syrian men, women, and children in besieged towns like Madaya, Kefraya, and Fuʿa are eating boiled leaves in a desperate effort to keep themselves alive long enough for aid to arrive. If this ceasefire offers even a chance of enough of a break in the war to bring food to those people, even if it only buys them another six months, or another month, then that in and of itself means that the negotiations have been worth it.

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