Daniel R. DePetris
Security, Middle East
America’s regime-change efforts have failed in the past. Why would an attempt to remove Assad from power be different?
The Damascus suburbs are a smoldering ruin. Scroll through video footage and pictures of Daraya, Arbeen, Harasta, Jobar and Douma, and you will see just how worn out these areas have become. Syrians who once lived in these towns have lost everything, including their lives; if they had the means to smuggle themselves and their families out, then they were fortunate enough to only lose their homes and businesses. Damascus, the seat of political power, is too important for Bashar al-Assad’s regime to give up—and the Syrian army has demonstrated how far it will go to keep Damascus under government control.
The Ghouta region, a short thirty-minute drive from the presidential palace, is the only major area near Damascus left in rebel hands. Every other suburb has been cleared out by the regime through a combination of indiscriminate aerial bombardment, chemical-weapons attacks and siege warfare. Ghouta itself has been surrounded by pro-government forces since 2013, the year Assad’s troops fired a volley of ground-to-ground, sarin-tipped missiles in the dead of night, killing upwards of 1,400 people, according to U.S. intelligence community assessments. A minuscule amount of food gets in, the sick and seriously injured are blocked from going to hospitals, and medical supplies are stopped at the government’s lines. All the while, airstrikes and bombings continue to target everything in sight: markets, homes, hospitals, rescue workers, ambulances, and even people stepping out of their basement shelters for a breath of air.