The Unz Review • An Alternative Media Selection$
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
In Syria, the War of Hunger Is Taking Over from the War of Guns
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information


Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • B
Show CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Thanks, LOL, or Troll with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

Great dollops of hypocrisy invariably accompany expressions of concern by outside powers for the wellbeing of the Syrian people. But even by these low standards, a new record for self-serving dishonesty is being set by the Caesar Civilian Protection Act, the new US law imposing the harshest sanctions in the world on Syria and bringing millions of Syrians to the brink of famine.

Supposedly aimed at safeguarding ordinary Syrians from violent repression by President Bashar al-Assad, the law is given a humanitarian garnish by naming it after the Syrian military photographer who filmed and smuggled out of the country pictures of thousands of Syrians killed by the government. But instead of protecting Syrians, as it claims, the Caesar Act is a measure of collective punishment that is impoverishing people in government and opposition-held areas alike.

Bad though the situation in Syria was after 10 years of warfare and a long-standing economic embargo, the crisis has got much worse in the nine months since the law was implemented on 17 June last year. It has raised the number of Syrians who are close to starvation to 12.4 million, or 60 per cent of the population, according to the UN.

Already, more than half a million children under the age of five are suffering from stunting as the result of chronic malnutrition. As the Syrian currency collapsed and prices rose by 230 per cent over the last year, Syrian families could no longer afford to buy basic foodstuffs such as bread, rice, lentils, oil and sugar.

“The war of hunger … scares me more than the war of guns,” says Ghassan Massoud, the Syrian actor famous for playing Saladin in the 2005 Ridley Scott film Kingdom of Heaven. A politically neutral and popular figure in Syria, Massoud is quoted as saying that government employees are earning 50,000 Syrian pounds (\$13/£9) a month when they need 800,000 Syrian pounds to survive. “I am a vegetarian but I do not accept that a citizen is not able to eat meat because a kilo costs 20,000 Syrian pounds.”

The Caesar Act threatens sanctions on any person or company that does business with Syria and thereby imposes a tight economic siege on the country. Introduced just as the Covid-19 epidemic made its first onset in Syria last summer and soon after the implosion of the Lebanese economy to which Syria is closely linked, the law has proved the final devastating blow to Syrians who were already ground down by a decade of destruction.

It was supposedly aimed at Assad and his regime, but there was never any reason to believe that it would destabilise them or compel them to ease repression. Since they hold power, they are well placed to control diminished resources. As with the 13 years of UN sanctions directed against Saddam Hussein between 1990 and 2003, the victims were not the dictator and his family but the civilian population. Iraqi society was shattered, with results that are still with us, and the same is now happening in Syria.

“Sanctions and other measures that are meant to penalise repressive rulers usually wind up hurting ordinary people the most,” concludes the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

I wrote in the 1990s that sanctions were killing more Iraqis than Saddam, but the defenders of the embargo would claim that its critics were aiding the Iraqi leader and, if there really was significant civilian suffering, it was all his fault. The same discredited arguments are now used today to justify the Caesar Act, though it hits people living in the 30 per cent of Syria outside Assad’s rule just as much as it harms them in the 70 per cent under his control.

A university teacher in government-held Latakia on the Mediterranean coast says that she is trying to survive on a salary worth the equivalent of \$18 a month. She is eating less and depends on fruit and vegetables from relatives who are farmers. In Damascus, people say that Covid-19 spreads easily because they do not have the money to buy both food and masks.

In rebel-held Idlib, where people face both bombing and Covid-19, one woman said that she thought that 95 per cent of people were worse off because of the pan-Syrian economic collapse. Even in former Kurdish areas now occupied by the Turkish army, the inhabitants are paying to be smuggled across the border into Turkey where they can get jobs that pay them a living wage.

The newscasts and overviews of the Syrian conflict broadcast or published this week on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011 make little mention of the Caesar Act and the merciless consequences of sanctions. This is par for the course because embargoes do not kill dramatically or publicly like bombs and bullets – and they can even be portrayed, as they are in the present instance, as a non-violent measure designed to help civilians.

Syria is locked into a toxic stalemate in which the main players are outside powers who consult only their own interests whatever their tear-stained protestations to the contrary. Looked at from a strictly military point of view, Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has won the war and controls most populated areas. The Kurds, backed by the US, hold a large chunk of northeast Syria, but they have been ethnically cleansed from two enclaves by Turkey. The Turks protect several million Arab civilians opposed to Assad crammed into part of Idlib province close to the Turkish border.

The US and its allies may denounce Assad but it is a long time since they thought it feasible, or necessarily in their interests, to overthrow him. They fear that if he did fall, Syria might collapse into Libyan-type chaos and be taken over by jihadis. But since they also want to deny Assad, Russia and Iran a complete victory, they are content to see the present grim situation long continue.


An argument in favour of sanctions is that they would ultimately force Assad to make concessions and bring an end to the war. But they have had precisely the opposite impact according to the UAE, which is likely to play a central role in any negotiations to bring about a permanent peace. Earlier this month, the foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan declared that “to keep the Caesar Act as it is today makes this path [towards resolving the crisis] more difficult”.

President Biden does not want to be sucked further into the Syrian morass and is unlikely to take the initiative. Much of the US foreign policy establishment think that the US made a mistake after 9/11 in focusing on wars in the Middle East when it should have been confronting China.

Allowing Syria to fester while enforcing an economic siege embodied in the Caesar Act means that millions of Syrians are sinking ever deeper into misery and despair. A state of “no peace, no war”, in which there are no final winners and losers, is attractive to foreign powers, but Syria at present is like a rickety house of cards that may collapse at any moment.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Syria, Syrian Civil War 
Hide 23 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
  1. Steal Syrian oil. Prohibit the import of foodstuffs by Syria. And then set fire to Syrian wheat fields. The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal was clearly nothing but victors vengeance for the victors are now doing what they hanged Nazis for.

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
  2. anonymous[143] • Disclaimer says:

    If you want to help the Syrian people I think you should write an article aimed at a Beijing audience and have it translated. Tell the foreign policy leaders in Beijing that if Syria starves, then Iran will have to step in and transfer a lot of resources to save it. If Iran spends so much on Syria then how can Iran maintain its strength? If Iran becomes weaker then in the coming war started by the US, Iran won’t be able to fight as hard as it can. A US battered by the Iran War will mean even contemplating a Taiwan War will be put off by several years. That’s a huge benefit to China that can be bought for the low price of just a few billion dollars per year in aid to Syria.

    • Agree: Mr. XYZ, Ann Nonny Mouse
  3. It’s unfortunate that the Europeans so tamely obey the orders of their American overlords. If governments and commercial firms just paid no attention, the sanctions would remain without effect.

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
  4. Governments start the wars that the common people have to suffer through. Both the US and Russia and to a lesser extent Turkey have their own reasons for not ending this atrocity. Where is the UN? This should prove to anyone that government itself is an evil institution.

    Lets also look at government currency. If the Syrian people had gold and silver for their money, they could purchase the food they need as gold and silver have value that their gov’t script does not. The Syrian gov’t wanted to enslave its people with fiat currency and is guilty of forcing worthless paper on their citizens to use as though it were money. The Syrian leaders should be hung just for this monumental fraud and ensuing catastrophe.

    The government officials involved in this disaster are clearly guilty of crimes against humanity and they should all be hung but that won’t happen. It’s a giant club of predators that run all governments and they won’t go after each other as a professional courtesy for their murdering counterparts.

  5. nikki says:

    Bashar al Assad is an elected president not a “dictator” you Zionist stooge and more popular than ever just because he care for his people, all of them and their secular state and has survived everything the American fascist regime, Israel, turkey, Saudi Barbaria, Qatar and the ziocons had thrown at it, be it bombs, hundreds of thousands of whahhabi cutthroats or starvation.

    Americans now stealing Syrian oil and burning down their crops should be well advised to remember that although the American fascist regime never leave an occupation voluntarily it does so by force as they indeed did from Vietnam and Lebanon -86 to the tune of 340 something bombed to death marines. With friends like Iran, Russia and China just to name a few Syria together with Lebanon will survive this, the US and the Eurofags, not so much.

    • Thanks: Commentator Mike
  6. @RoatanBill

    Your goldbug solution is nice but clearly flawed

    Since the local economy has be very close to destroyed, Syrians are importing food, oil and other goods from abroad, it wouldn’t take long for their gold to run out

    • Replies: @RoatanBill
  7. @(((They))) Live

    What a silly retort. Everything eventually runs out unless its replenished.

    Would you rather have gold in hand versus paper currency that’s inflated to have near zero purchasing power?

    For however long they have gold, silver or many other tangible objects, they are better off than having pieces of paper with politicians images on them.

    • Replies: @(((They))) Live
  8. @RoatanBill

    Its NOT a silly retort, its common sense

    Plenty of people in the Middle East have gold and save in gold, its part of the local culture, a dowry in Iran is usually paid in gold. I suspect most Syrians have already spent or traded their gold

    A gold based currency is not what Syrians need, they need an end to the war and sanctions

    • Agree: Jim Christian
    • Replies: @RoatanBill
  9. @(((They))) Live

    You’re saying that gold is useless because people eventually run out of it because it’s not replenished. That’s more than silly, it’s stupid. The fact that all gov’ts force their people to save and trade in bullshit currency is why lots of people are caught when their currency turns to toilet paper. Any gold people may possess is not in a form conducive to trading it for things they need. Coinage and bars of known weight would be best for trade but gov’t precludes their use.

    Of course the wars should end, but even without wars, currencies periodically get devalued to steal the people’s labor and savings as part of gov’t policy. Gov’t currency is gov’t policy and since no fiat currency has ever lasted very long, that policy is designed to create dire situations for the average person in the long run. Wars aggravate the theft and make it more obvious.

  10. Dan Hayes says:

    “Let the children starve”: The spirit of Madeline Albright lives on in American foreign policy!

  11. TG says:

    The Real Story on Syria: Forced Population Growth Followed by Collapse

    The explanation is that the Syrian government deliberately engineered a massive population explosion. They even made the sale and possession of contraceptives a crime! (See “Demographic Developments and Population: Policies in Ba’thist Syria (Demographic Developments and Socioeconomics)”, by Onn Winkler).

    Note that the population increased exponentially right up through 2010, going from 5 million to 10 million in just 18 years, then from 10 million to 20 million in another 18 years… and shortly thereafter the aquifers were drained dry and agriculture collapsed and population started trending downwards – not so much due to outright famine, as to poverty, lack of medical care, warfare, and people fleeing the country.

    Now as far as weather goes, there were a couple of dry years before the collapse, but weather is always like that. Last year there were record rainfalls. If Syria’s population had been stable at 5 or even 10 million, they could have coasted on water stored in the aquifers until the rains came back. But when the population increases so much that you drain the aquifers even when there is plenty of rain, then when a temporary drought hits you have no reserve and it all falls apart.

    Check out the section in wikipedia on Syria’s aquifers and groundwater – the water table had been dropping drastically as far back as 1985! Long before the post-2010 dry spell, Syria’s rapid populating growth had been consuming more water than fell as rain – EVEN DURING WET YEARS. The low rainfall post-2010 was an early trigger, but the collapse would have come regardless.

    Every news piece you have heard about Syria being due to ‘climate change’ is a lie, period.

    We keep hearing that nations need to grow their populations to become more powerful. People must have six children each or those evil people in Tyrannia or Fanatistan will outbreed us and conquer us! How powerful do you think that the Syrian government is now? Sure, all other things being equal God is on the side of the bigger battalions, but massively producing children that you can’t provide for is not usually the best strategy…

    I do not blame the Syrian people for this debacle. I blame the Syrian government for treating their people as if they were cattle. Yes, Bashar al-Assad has blood on his hands, but not so much because he shot a few protestors. It was because he, and his predecessors, engineered a population explosion that turned Syria into a screaming hell of misery and chaos.

    And I also blame those academics and journalists that went along to get along, that have suppressed nearly all mention of the economic and environmental effects of government forced population growth, and who have allowed the rich to escape having to answer for their actions. For shame.

    Bottom line: Malthus was right. He’s always been right. Exponential growth is so powerful that, without an open frontier, human populations can’t double every 20 years or so over and over with break or respite. And if people do try to double their population every 20 years, before too long they will fail, and as they fail, of necessity, the standard of living will stabilize at subsistence level poverty with all the misery and corruption and instability that that entails. As it always has, as it always will.

    • Replies: @Von
  12. @RoatanBill

    Both the US and Russia and to a lesser extent Turkey have their own reasons for not ending this atrocity.

    Please explain. Why does Russia want the atrocious US terrorism and robbery to continue to destroy Syria, with its genuinely elected President?

    • Replies: @RoatanBill
    , @Von
  13. @Ann Nonny Mouse

    The Russians are just another corrupt gov’t looking out for their own interests. They aren’t seriously trying to terminate the hostilities because they’re making money off them. They want a simmering situation to line their pockets and get the rebuilding contracts eventually. They’ve read the US’s playbook and are following along. For now, they’re partners with the US and Turkey to loot Syria.

    Think about it – The Russians could tell the Israeli’s to knock it off and the Israeli’s would have to comply. They could destroy all of the Turkish forces in one night and send a message to the US that the game is winding down. At some point, one of the players will signal its over and the entire thing will just deescalate and go away once the leaches have had all there is to take.

    It’s a game that all the major players use to shift resources around. All leaders are sociopaths. It’s why I’m an anarchist because no one should have the power gov’ts have.

  14. Von says:

    That is right, ignore the NATO (US, Turkey, KSA, Qatar, GB, France) and GCC plotting their regime-change policies.

  15. Von says:
    @Ann Nonny Mouse

    Without Russia the black flags of Al-Qaeda and ISIS would be waiving in Damascus, thanks to the pernicious and devious and depraved US regime and their willing handlers like the Turkish regime. Ofcourse Russia stepped in to save the country into becoming another failed state which has been a specialty of the NATO and the GCC.

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
  16. Resartus says:

    If Syria falls, the new government most likely rises in the hands of the West….
    There goes Russia’s warm water port in the Med…..

    Lebanon might actually regain it’s economics from tourism
    once Hezebollah is run out by the west, since there would be no
    more support from Syria….

  17. Wow, that’s a pretty longwinded attempt to jewsplain why we “need” to starve the Syrians. Let’s if we can summarize your key points. Where did you get the “facts” to support your narrative from again?

    See “Demographic Developments and Population: Policies in Ba’thist Syria (Demographic Developments and Socioeconomics)”, by Onn Winkler)

    OK, that helps. For anyone who doesn’t feel like wading through an endless, fetid swamp of low-grade pilpul, here’s a handy shortcut:

    “Listen up, American goyim! You must kill the Syrian goyim… because the (((world’s leading authority))) on Syria says so!”

    [Or at least the University of Haifa‘s leading authority — it’s basically the same thing, right?]

    A regional perspective on the population growth issue:


    The main thrust of TG’s deliberately-disingenuous “argument” appears to be that the Syrian goyim are increasing their population too rapidly:
    “Forced Population Growth”
    “massive population explosion”
    “the population increased exponentially”

    Let’s see if we can quantify that rate of increase more precisely — and compare it to certain other countries in the region. If we look at the fertility side of the equation — leaving aside mortality for the moment* — the best measure is obviously total fertility rate (TFR).
    According to the CIA Fact Book, as of 2020, Syria’s TFR was 2.9 children/ woman. (Replacement level is 2.1)

    If we examine the same stats for a certain neighboring desert tribal country, what do we find?

    Among Israeli Jewish women, the TFR reached 3.16, surpassing for the first time in Israel’s history the Arab fertility rate, which fell to 3.11.”

    “With a total population of close to nine million today, including more than 6.5 million Jews, Israel’s population is expected to reach 20 million by 2065.”

    If we follow TG’s line of “thinking,” it looks as if those rapidly-reproducing Zionist settler-colonialists in Palestine should get even stricter sanctions than the Syrians…

    *Population [obviously] reflects a dynamic equilibrium between births and deaths. And, just as obviously, mortality has been just slightly higher in Syria in recent years than among the jews in Palestine — so looking at births alone significantly understates the difference.

  18. People who support regime change in Syria want to replace a secular government with Al Qaeda/islamist terrorists. Assad would not have survived if Syrians did not see this simple truth! We reject a Syria that looks like Saudi Arabia.

    • Thanks: Ann Nonny Mouse
  19. anon[116] • Disclaimer says:

    The answer to hugely escalating food costs is to buy local wherever you can.

    • Replies: @anon
  20. anon[116] • Disclaimer says:

    And the answer to Unz is that every comment one might make is scrupulously examined for any error in judgment you might make according to their agenda.
    Hard row to hoe, but there are very few (and vanishing) sites where one can actually comment and expect to be allowed to comment freely This is not about alt right or alt left or BLM. It is about our right to comment freely on anything.
    If our thoughts are to be censored then we really don’t have any rights at all.

  21. Sean says:

    But even by these low standards, a new record for self-serving dishonesty is being set by the Caesar Civilian Protection Act, the new US law imposing the harshest sanctions in the world on Syria and bringing millions of Syrians to the brink of famine.

    Russia has grain and ships, it can sell and send massive quantities food to Syrians, can’t it?

    Much of the US foreign policy establishment think that the US made a mistake after 9/11 in focusing on wars in the Middle East when it should have been confronting China

    If the US is unable to affect the policy of Assad, what hope was there of achieving anything by confronting the vastly more powerful Xi?

  22. In Damascus, people say that Covid-19 spreads easily because they do not have the money to buy both food and masks.

    Sorry, Cockburn, but that was about as much claptrap from you I am willing to stand today.
    I hope you actually had something worthwhile to say somewhere in this Bolshevik crapfest, for the other readers, I am wsting my limited commenting privileges to tell you to rather shut up than embarrass our intellects with your propaganda.
    But then, you say it best yourself:

    Great dollops of hypocrisy invariably accompany expressions of concern by outside powers for the wellbeing of the Syrian people.

    I should have seen that as a warning of what you are about to spout.

  23. Blade says:

    Cockburn is a liar. And like all liars, is inconsistent. He says former Kurdish areas held by Turkish army, however fails to mention even in North Syria Kurds are still not the majority despite the ethnic cleansing of Arabs they committed with the support of their allies. Why? Simply math. Before the war Kurds were between 5%-10% of population in Syria. That is a small minority, in fact, lesser than Turks (if you include Arabic speaking Turks), and obviously large majority was Arab. It happens to be the case that 3.5 to 4 million Arab refugees in Turkey (+ the ones in Europe) are from that area. I wonder why they left North Syria? His inconsistencies doesn’t stop there, and it doesn’t help him when he says 3 million Arabs are crammed into Idlib area. Gee, wonder where did those Arabs sprout from? Maybe they are picked from Algeria and crammed there.

    Then he goes on with lies and says Turks ethnically cleanse Kurds. However, he fails to mention 350 to 400K Syrian Kurds who escaped from Syria also found refuge in Turkey, what kind of country that wants to ethnically cleanse some people also welcomes them into its borders?

    Writing the exact opposite of the truth is the modern Western media’s job nowadays and that’s why sane people with some brain do not trust anything they say. That folks, tell you all you need to know about Cockburn. He is a lying Zionazi tool with no credibility as he definitely knows everything I mentioned above but insists writing lies.

Current Commenter

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone

 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments have been licensed to The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Commenting Disabled While in Translation Mode
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr