On July 17, MEF Sentry Radio interviewed Arwa Damon, a senior international correspondent at CNN. Damon has won a George Foster Peabody Award and three Emmys for her war reporting in Iraq, Syria, and other conflict zones across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Syrian civil war [looks like] a series of seemingly inevitable transitions. You start with revolutions around the Arab world that inevitably were going to lead to an unarmed uprising in Syria, given the sectarian balance. Once there was an unarmed uprising, it was inevitable that the Syrian regime was going to crack down violently. Once the Syrian regime cracked down violently, it was inevitable that the protestors were going to pick up arms. Once they picked up arms ... it was inevitable that Sunni Islamists were going to rise to the fore. Once that happened, it was inevitable that the Iranians and Shiite militia [fighters] by the tens of thousands were going to come into the country to even the balance. And, as a result of all that – and a certain lack of commitment among Iran's rivals – we're nearing the end of the civil war ... At what point in this progression was there an opportunity to break the chain?
At pretty much every single stage that you mentioned, and I think that's what's so heartbreaking for all of us who were covering Syria, and that's what's causing a lot of us to question, you know, did we somehow fail in our reporting of it?
Because we warned about every single thing that you're mentioning. We saw it happening. We reported it happening. We were reporting from the very beginning that this worst case scenario was going to unfold, that there was going to be such inaction from the West, that the West was going to try to remain a passive observer or half-heartedly try to put red lines into place.
"We were reporting from the very beginning that this worst case scenario was going to unfold."
And that's what's really been so heartbreaking about it. There could have been early ways to try to pressure the regime to just stop killing people. The opposition in early days would not have been opposed to Russia keeping its naval base in Latakia, they would have been willing to compromise, to negotiate, but the Assad family had to stay in power. Bashar himself had to stay in power, he had to live up to his father's legacy. He could not be the man who brought down the house of Assad. And so he went all in.
And unfortunately for Syria ... for the activists who went out calling for democracy and filmed every single thing that they did practically, the West just stood by. And I think a lot of them right now still struggle to understand why. And they ask us why and we can't even clearly explain it to them. You know, why did the U.S. allow red lines to be crossed? Why did the U.S. not threaten more military action? Why did the U.S. not try to negotiate with the Russians on the sidelines?
Why did the West – not just the U.S., I mean the West in general – you had Syrians in there literally asking America to at least implement a no-fly zone, something, anything to stop the bombs. And that will wasn't even there.
"Why did the U.S. allow red lines to be crossed? Why did the U.S. not threaten more military action?"
And then that horrible chemical attack happened in Ghouta back in 2013. I remember getting calls then from activists all across the country saying, 'Arwa, this is it. Obama's red line has been crossed. This is it. America has to come save us now, they're not going to allow this to keep going.' And of course it just keeps going.
Yes, we saw the radicalization of the revolution. We all have friends and activists who were calling for democracy, some of whom ended up, out of sheer desperation, turning towards guns, picking up weapons, being moderate rebel fighters. And then they themselves fully getting radicalized, because when someone comes in and walks up to you with a suitcase full of money and says, 'Hey, you know what? if you're just a bit more religious and a bit more conservative, this money's going to be yours and you'll be able to buy guns to defend yourself" – and that happens across the country – who can blame them for going for that?