United States President Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, next week. While in Japan for a G7 summit, Obama will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial dedicated to the nearly 70,000 residents of the city killed in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. The White House has denied the visit will be for "an apology" but the visit will have to be apologetic in nature. Making peace with "enemies" and beginning new alliances has been part of the U.S.'s post-World War II strategy. Despite hotbeds of armed conflict flaring up in the Middle East and surrounding regions, "wars" have increasingly been fought in financial markets, away from battlefields. While the "zero problems" policy of former foreign minister and current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu may have had problems in execution, with revisions, the principle may be sound.President Obama appears to have adopted a similar policy in engaging with countries that the U.S. has traditionally isolated, such as Cuba. The legacy of President Obama and his presidency will be one of dichotomies. While largely viewed as dovish in his stance as commander-in-chief, his tenure in that position has been dominated by war. Winding down the Iraq War may have inadvertently caused the birth of DAESH, and the surges in Afghanistan appear not to have made significant progress in installing a viable democracy in that country. So, what's the best solution for dismantling brutal dictatorships and regimes with little respect for human rights? It appears brute military force may do more harm than good, as the failed invasion of Iraq illustrates. What then?
The U.S. will have spent nearly $3 trillion fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by 2020. Obviously the incalculable amount of human suffering incurred by Iraqi civilians, the American armed forces and their families, and even those caught up in the war on the Iraqi side and their families is immeasurable. So, what would have been a more effective way of spending such large sums to more quickly bring about peace and democracy?
The populations of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are roughly 25 million, 35 million and 35 million people, respectively. Despite the fact that Syria wasn't invaded by the U.S., the destabilizing effect of the Iraq War contributed to its current chaotic stalemate. This means that the U.S. has spent nearly $30,000 per individual in these war zones. Think about that for a moment; $30,000 per man, woman and child was spent to fight wars in these countries.
Why is this important now? Rebuilding Syria and doing it right should serve as a model for future resolutions to armed conflict. Waging war ad infinitum not only harms those who live in those war zones but also deprives citizens of the countries waging war from more effectively spending these funds on domestic projects. The liberalization of trade between the U.S. and Cuba will undoubtedly be the end of the communist regime in Cuba. A democratic and free-market Cuba will exist within five years of the establishment of free trade and tourism between the two countries.
Syria and Turkey were on a similar path immediately preceding the Arab Spring. I visited Aleppo on a day-trip from the southeastern city of Gaziantep in 2010 and was surprised by the depth of cross-border trade between the two countries. Cultural exchange was at an all-time high and it was only a matter of time before Turkish influence caused a splinter in the Assad family's four-decade-long rule in Damascus.
Spending $3,000 now, or even $300 now per individual in Syria, building infrastructure in a zone of protection in the north will ultimately be much more cost-effective then continuing to fight the proxy war that has dragged on the last few years. The Europeans, Americans and Russians can either spend thousands of dollars housing refugees in their own countries in the case of the Europeans or on continuing to wage a proxy war in Syria, or they can join Turkey in rebuilding the north while simultaneously defending it from DAESH and regime fighters.
This summer should be the last summer that the Syrian people should have to suffer. Will those with power decide to more wisely spend their funds and help bring an end to armed conflict? Or will Syria be just another one of many cautionary tales of unending death and destruction?