Syria crisis is taking 'unimaginable toll'
September 6th, 2013
09:34 AM ET

Syria crisis is taking 'unimaginable toll'

By Gabrielle Chefitz

Editor’s note: CNN’s Gabrielle Chefitz speaks with CNN Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon about the situation in Syria.

Paint a picture for us. What is it like in Syria right now?

It’s tense. There’s widespread fear. The kind of war that is happening now is something that most only saw on television. They would have seen it happening in Lebanon, or would have watched it more recently happening in Iraq. Now everything they’ve seen on their TV screens has become their reality. And that’s a terrifying concept for anyone to deal with. Right now, there’s a lot of people questioning the level of military involvement the U.S. is willing to commit to. From their perspective, the United States is doing this less out of concern for the Syrian population and more out of U.S. policy and a belief that America needs to protect itself.

What would U.S. military involvement mean for ordinary Syrian citizens?

These military strikes are going to signal a new chapter of the war. There is no way to end the war. It’s going to happen and it is happening and is going to take a very long time no matter what. The debate needs to be about mitigating the consequences of it. From dealing with the refugee population, to educating children, to inoculating them against diseases, to making sure women aren’t being exploited, to making sure generations are not lost, all the way to mitigating the consequences of having groups that are affiliated with al Qaeda become even more powerful.

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What’s happening in the region right now is potentially going to change the very way that countries define themselves. We’re talking colossal, potentially border changing events. The region, in its recent history, has existed along artificial borders that were created by colonial powers. And a lot of analysts will tell you that this is to a certain degree the region rebalancing the dynamics. And that may be inevitable, but it does not have to be as bloody as it has been or as bloody as its going to get. But I think when we look back on what’s happening now, in 20 years, this is going to be one of those chapters in history that redefines the way an entire region identifies itself, the way countries identify themselves.

One of the most serious consequences of the current civil war is the refugee crisis. Can we mitigate this?

UNHCR is already saying they don’t even have 50 percent of the money they need to provide the most basic of refugee needs. That means that 50 percent of the people that are registering with them, they cannot adequately provide for. Two million people plus are now registered with the United Nations, and that’s probably not a reflection of what the refugee population really is, because the unofficial numbers are probably much higher, a lot of people end up not registering. And these are people who have lost their homes, their personal belongings, their personal memorabilia, their loved ones. And they have to go and live as refugees under these circumstances that forces them to lose their dignity as well. We cannot underestimate the psychological toll this takes on people.

Is there still a spirit of resilience or are people worn down at this point?

It’s definitely taking its toll. It’s taking a phenomenal, unimaginable toll. But at the same, there is resilience, there is determination. I’m speaking mostly about the opposition and the people living in opposition strongholds. They’ve come this far, there is the knowledge that they can’t go back. But there are also a lot of questions being asked. A lot of people will tell you that if they had known that this was how it was going to end up, if only they could have known this was how it was going to end up. And then you ask them, well would you not have participated? And they’ll say no. We still would have. But there’s a lot of feeling that they were abandoned by the international community. That this did not have to have taken the toll on the people that it has already taken.

Have people been able to maintain any semblance of daily life?

Daily life has redefined itself, obviously, but people are phenomenal in times like this. Daily life looks nothing like it used to before. But depending on which part of the country you’re in and what’s happening around you, there’s a shadow of it. People learn to live with war. People learn to redefine their normal to what they are willing to accept on a daily basis – living with the risk, living with the danger, living with the fact that each time you say goodbye to someone you don’t know when you’re going to see them again. Because you don’t have a choice. You have to get up every single morning and breathe and live somehow.

How can you tell this story of ordinary life and ordinary citizens? How do we move beyond the political to the personal?

It’s like people have lost their humanity. They’ve lost their compassion. And lost the realization that every day that goes by a mother is losing her child. A woman is losing her husband. Families are being torn apart. People’s reality is just being ripped away from them, a lot of the time by violence that they cannot possibly understand. And if you think what is happening in the region is not somehow going to impact the United States, well it is. And if you can’t think about it in terms of the human lives that are being lost or the suffering that a parent goes through when their dead child is in their arms, then maybe America needs to start thinking about how what’s happening here has a very real potential of threatening the U.S. and of hurting their standing that is already on shaky grounds in the region.

How can journalists help achieve this?

We who have been covering this from the beginning, we have this conversation all the time. Did we fail? Where did we fail? What should we have done differently? What greater risks should we have taken to somehow bring about the human story of all of this? We talk about that all the time. A lot of feeling guilty, like we also somehow failed Syria and we’ve also failed the Syrian people. Because how could we be reporting a story for more than 2 years, giving it our best and have the world, by and large, be so desensitized to what’s happening? Americans are war weary, they are exhausted from Iraq. But you don’t do a story because your audience is exhausted, you do a story because it’s the right thing to do.

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Topics: Syria

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. JAL

    Patent function commencing...Ideas to make all resources abundant, for all, is the goal.

    September 6, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
    • b. a. ruck

      First, everyone condemns the U. S. for "staying out" of Syria. Yet the U.S. has been diplomatically trying to get all parties together for TWO years! Now that Obama has threatened to bomb them because of the chemical attack, everyone is screaming bloody murder. So, I think that all of you yahoo's neither know what you are talking about or are talking out of the side of your mouth!
      Now you say that this genocide of Syrians by this insane, despot who has killed over 100,000 people and gassed over 3000, just so he can steal billions more than he already has and remain in power, will have consequences for the U. S. is a ridiculous statement. Assad has been killing Americans for years. Remember the 300 plus Marines he bombed in the barracks in Lebanon?!! He has been sheltering, providing financing and supporting Hamas and other terrorist organizations for years as his evil father did before him.
      Finally, because the media publicized the details of the targets for the bombing you can bet this monster has hidden, moved and disguised his jets, his ammunition and his chemical weapons by now. It proves how insane Assad is that he is willing to destroy his own country, people and it's infrastructure. So if you people can't come up with a solution, or constructive suggestions I advise to shut the blank up! If you hate the U.S, move! We've given all the middle eastern countries billions of dollars and the despots steal it and then condemn us! I say, don't give them another dime and let their own people kill them themselves, like Kadaffi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 11, 2013 at 12:05 am | Reply
  2. Rahman

    May God Bless your efforts Arwan and those with you who paint the reality of the humanitarian conditions the vulnerable face in Syria! I'm not going to vote for any war as it will simply bring more blood shed and I have a real gut feeling that any military intervention made what so ever on anyone's part will NOT change the situation there.The Arabs will be destroying themselves unless they don't find a cure for their spiritual sickness.I would like to learn however how those willing to help back home can improve the humanitarian condition there through aiding the UNHCR more effectively. Stay safe!

    September 6, 2013 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • tsummers

      With the Obama administration’s constant and heavy emphasis on the heinous murders of 429 Syrian children by ricin gas and the gruesome footage of that act, I suggest the United States should start putting its aborted babies on display. The aborted babies should be wrapped in shrouds and lined up on, let's see we'll need a pretty big area, perhaps on football fields for the whole world to see the heinous murders of abortionists. At the tune of approximately 4,000 aborted babies each day we'll need a whole lot of football fields. Maybe then those who are so appalled at 429 Syrian children in shrouds would see the irony of their misguided thinking and lead this country back to morality. Talk about a holocaust!

      September 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  3. cskk

    The Administration and the complicit media don't have a clue. "In the West, they are unwittingly aided by the political left. Fearful of inducing Islamophobia, it tries to suppress debate about the forces driving the radicalization of Islam. This has contributed to a decade of warfare waged by America in a vacuum of knowledge about sectarian forces within Islam."

    September 6, 2013 at 11:05 am | Reply
  4. Joseph McCarthy

    Thanks to the constant interference from the the U.S., it's crony NATO allies and the Arab League, this was bound to happen. It also proves beyond a reasonable doubt Obama's obscene lack of concern for the average Syrian. Yes, he did display a lot of phony outrage about Assad's use of "chemical weapons" against the people but then again, he plans to kill many more with this dastardly upcoming attack!

    September 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  5. Matt

    That is if we are here in 20 years, Obama is in his second term after the reset, concessions that Russian rat sleeper trying to infiltrate the US government to influence US foreign policy in favor of the Kremlin. Obama is in the same position as 43 in 2008. Now any hold overs from the previous Admin would have told them. The new Admin fresh full of hope on Russia, hold overs of the last Admin that had dealt with Russia know it was a waste of time. This is the second time within six years the US was prepared to dance with Russia in 2008 Georgia and now Syria. 43 to the right, 44 to the left, different parties and doctrines. So it is odds on in the next to terms regardless who the President is, what party it is going to come to a head with Russia and end in some direct violence. No matter what occurs with Syria this time around.

    September 7, 2013 at 12:13 am | Reply
  6. USAPeasant

    Very good article, and Arwa Damon is probably one of the if not the foremost best war/conflict correspondant, very gutsy woman. The human toll of any civil war is tragic, and Syria has been particularly brutal, even for a civil war. I think one thing that resonated is at the start of the article, their people feel more like we're using them, which is to a degree true since our government has no real plans to remove the chemical weapons at the minimum. Even then though I'm not sure if anything America could or couldn't do would make Syria better. All ready it's a mini-world war in one country with this much international involvement both directly on both sides with hezbollah/iran vs international jihadists and indrectly through funding and arms among the major powers. All the powers even if Assad is gone or wins are going to want something in exchange I imagine.
    Stay safe Arwa!

    September 7, 2013 at 1:55 am | Reply
  7. s-bubba

    But our politicians tell us our people say no,don't worry us with that it's not our problem . start fixing the problems you never fixed before. So there hands are tied , and they can't lead on this one .

    September 7, 2013 at 2:18 am | Reply
  8. georgex9

    Democrat representatives need to save President Obama from making the biggest mistake of his presidency and vote against attacking Syria. The political consequence for that will hurt the Democrats seeking reelection.

    September 7, 2013 at 9:28 am | Reply
  9. Paul

    I still don't understand why this assad guy would want to use such a weapon on this scale on the civilian knowing darn too well it will only bring him and his supporters destruction and final demise. If he wanted to commit suicide there was no better way to accomplish it than gassing women and children. Arabs are strange people indeed, nothing about them makes any sense.

    September 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • Simon Rolleston

      In a civil war,the easiest targets are always the most defenceless.Further Assad has had two decades to refine the terror tactics of a Police State.

      September 22, 2013 at 1:04 am | Reply
  10. j. von hettlingen

    Arwa Damon is remarkable, risking her life to cover a story as real as possible and as best as she can.
    Indeed, the plight and grievances of the Syrian refugees are beyond words. Serious journalists perform their duty to tell the tragedy. Unfortunately, many of us choose to ignore it, seeing it as none of their business.

    September 8, 2013 at 9:34 am | Reply
  11. joe d

    millions dying in the congo...crickets chirping
    Israels neihbor pharts and we have to go all out war.
    congress is owned by Israel/AIPAC..they are traitors and definately not AMERICAN..
    they would throw 300 million americans under the bus for 6 million ungrateful israelis and the AIPAC goon squad in 3 seconds.
    the financial terrorists have ruined this country...they got to go

    September 10, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply

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