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Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

May 4, 2018

The Middle East has been a seething cauldron of conflict since 1918. Twice in the 20th century, in 1967 and 1973, it almost became a flashpoint for nuclear war. The region has always been a chessboard where great powers play out their strategies.

In today’s Syria, it’s the US vs. Russia vs. Jihadists plus Saudi Arabia vs. Israel plus Turkey vs. the Kurds, not to mention Iran and Syria vs. the rebels. No wonder the country has been devastated, leaving behind an almost unimaginable humanitarian crisis.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks to longtime Middle East journalist Charles Glass, who has traveled extensively in the region covering conflict after conflict, and once spent 62 days as a prisoner of Shi’a militants during the Lebanon war.

He explains how the Syrian economy is shattered: agriculture barely functions, the medical system is nonexistent, and education is spotty at best. The rebuilding effort will be long and costly, and it’s not clear how many of the five million refugees who have left the country will ever come back.

For those that have returned, says Glass, the situation is often bleak. In some areas of Aleppo, returnees have pitched tents in the rubble, just to avoid losing their property rights.

As for chemical weapons, Glass is unsure whether the recent missile attack by the US, France, and Great Britain was justified. Since the action was launched without waiting for an on-site report from weapons inspectors, it was “like having an execution before a trial,” Glass tells Schechtman.  

Another topic of concern is the current role of the 2,000 US troops in the area, now that ISIS is no longer the main objective. As Glass tells it, the US focus is now on containing Iran: US troops have become part of Washington’s long game against Iran, particularly since President Bashar al-Assad has grown increasingly dependent on Iranian troops.

Glass emphasizes that the solution to the ongoing disaster does not lie with the Syrian groups that started the civil war, but rather with the US and Russia, which control the money and weapons that alone can determine the outcome.

Charles Glass is the author of Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe (Verso March 22, 2016); The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II (Penguin Press, June 13, 2013); Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation (Penguin Press, February 22, 2011).

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