The breakup of Yugoslavia took about a decade, killed roughly 120,000 people, and displaced nearly 3 million. In the fifth year of Syria’s civil war, “we’ve already blown past those numbers,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To date, that war has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced 11 million people—meaning half the country’s people have had to leave home.
Corker was speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday, and he cited one moment—more specifically 10 hours—that in his view would have made the biggest difference. “Obviously we’ve missed opportunities,” he said. But the most important, in his view, came in the fall of 2013, following an August 21 chemical-weapons attack outside Damascus, which was described by an administration official at the time as “an indiscriminate, inconceivable horror,” and which killed nearly 1,500 civilians. In the aftermath of that attack, said Corker, there was “bipartisan support” for airstrikes against the Assad regime to enforce President Obama’s declared “red line” against the use of chemical weapons. Corker said the operation would have been quick and would have involved “no boots on the ground.”