Faysal Itani

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A helicopter puts out a fire at the port of Beirut after Tuesday’s explosion. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

My first summer job was at the port of Beirut. It was the late ’90s and I was just a teenager. I spent muggy months entering shipping data as part of an ambitious new program to move the port from analog to digital log keeping. It was as unglamorous as you would expect from a bottom-rung job in the bowels of a Middle East bureaucracy. But despite the heat and the monotony, there was optimism.

The port was critical infrastructure in an economy rejuvenating after 15 years of civil war. Digital log keeping was part of the future — and an attempt to introduce much-needed order and transparency to a recovering public sector.…  Seguir leyendo »

A rescue worker carried a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack last week in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria.Credit Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, via Associated Press

A year ago, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for the government of President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own population. Almost exactly a year later, Mr. Assad seems to have once again unleashed a chemical agent on the besieged suburbs of Damascus, killing dozens.

Will President Trump decide, again, that the use of chemical weapons is intolerable and respond with missiles? Perhaps. But it won’t matter. When it comes to Syria, Washington is incoherent and, ultimately, disinterested. Mr. Assad knows this. He also knows that as long as there isn’t prolonged, focused American military action, his regime can survive.…  Seguir leyendo »

A poster depicting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Syria. Credit Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

When Bashar al-Assad first used chemical weapons, in August 2013, he violated a “red line” that President Barack Obama claimed to have established. Mr. Assad escaped retaliation, but eventually he surrendered (or was supposed to surrender) his chemical weapons under a United States-Russia agreement, while being allowed to continue to wage war by nonchemical means. Mr. Assad got extraordinarily lucky.

Since then, his fortunes have steadily improved. In recent months, his war against Syria’s rebel groups has been going exceptionally well, with one victory following another. So why would he risk it all by launching another chemical attack, provoking American strikes on a Syrian air base and perhaps ending President Trump’s ambivalence about opposing his regime?…  Seguir leyendo »

A poster showing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria inside a government military police office in Aleppo this month. Credit Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

The battle for eastern Aleppo will be over soon, but tens of thousands of Syrians there will find little peace. The victory for the government of President Bashar al-Assad will open another violent, disorienting chapter in their lives, and a dangerous one for the opposition. Soon, civilians and rebel fighters alike will either be punished or have to flee the city and join the many thousands of others displaced by Mr. Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies — part of a plan to break the insurgency, and change Syria forever.

In a recent interview, Mr. Assad said that taking Aleppo, which has been the site of fighting for years, “won’t mean the end of the war in Syria, but it will be a huge step toward this end.”…  Seguir leyendo »