I love the summer. When I was a kid, beginning around April 1, I would start counting down the days until I went to camp. As an adult, summer has always been the season when I can turn back the clock and be a little less adult. The Tuesday after Labor Day is just another day in the calendar and the weather is often no different from the day or month before, but for me, it is the most vile day of the year—it marks the end of summer.
Not this year, though. I was happy to see Labor Day come and go. Good riddance, summer of 2016. You were so bad that you did not even have an annoying song. The summer of 2016 was so awful that I haven’t been able to bring myself to get worked up over the poison ivy that crawled up my left side at the end of June and for a good portion of July, the two summer colds that afflicted me just a few weeks apart in July, or the late August “knee issue” that may keep me out of the Army Ten-Miler in early October and is making me feel old. Under reasonably normal circumstances, I would have whined to my wife, children, sister, and mother about the tragedies that I suffer that no one else must bear, but the summer has beaten the drama queen out of me, likely permanently. Whatever discomforts have discomfited me over the last ten weeks, they are mere annoyances against the backdrop of the ongoing nightmares for so many millions of others during this now thankfully over “seasonus horriblis.”
There have been terrible and bloody as well as terribly bloody summers before, but this summer has to be the worst, or at least seems to be the worst. There is the ongoing carnage in Syria, highlighted in the last weeks of the season with the unimaginable images of four thousand people being transferred out of a Damascus suburb called Darayya in what was essentially a mass surrender to an uncertain fate in Idlib, which is under the control of regime opponents and dangerously exposed to Syrian and Russian air strikes. It was Aleppo, or Halab as it is known in Arabic, where some of the most unspeakable violence of this summer has taken place. It was a beautiful city, a center of commerce, and a place of culture. In July 1993, I got lost in the city’s enormous, ancient market and napped in the corner of the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Aleppo. Halab is now dead.
Then there is Iraq, where the fight against the self-declared Islamic State dominates everyone’s attention—as it should—but the imagery of the conflict actually obscures how routine violence is in Iraq. On June 1, there was a bombing in Baghdad in al-Zafaraniya that killed one and injured six others. That attack made the local news, but not a single international news outlet covered it. I know for sure that the other ten attacks that day and the next did not. This is the way it went in Iraq in the summer of 2016, day in and day out. It is the way it has been going for a long time.
Syria and Iraq are horrible, but they serve as a backdrop to a convulsion of violence that seemed everywhere. The blood flowed in Istanbul, Ankara, Taiz, Sirte, Tel Aviv, Benghazi, Amman, al-Arish, Jeddah, Qatif, Medina, Aden, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Bingol, Gaziantep, and Zahle. Then there was Orlando and Nice, which dominated headlines in the United States and Europe for days, or those in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Somalia and other places that barely rated a mention, if at all.
It is hard enough to make sense of what is happening (though I have a book on the way that tries to), it is another thing to try to figure out what to do about it. As Secretary of State John Kerry has learned the hard way, there is not much the United States can do about the conflict in Syria if the president, Congress, and the American people are unwilling to expend the necessary resources to make a significant difference in the bloodletting there. Yet it is not just a matter of “Iraq fatigue” or a lack of political will, but the very fact that all the important players in Syria have an abiding interest in continuing the conflict, despite the pause in fighting that is set to begin on Tuesday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced today, after the Eid prayers in Darayya, that his regime will regain control of all the land that is presently beyond its grasp. That does not sound like a durable cease-fire is in the offing. It is terrible to think about, but after so many people have been killed, injured, and displaced, Syria may not be ripe for resolution. The same dynamic seems to be at play in Libya, where the United Nations and its partners in Europe and the United States have nurtured a Government of National Accord that is unable to overcome the political, social, and, dare I say, cultural forces that contribute to the country’s fragmentation. External powers like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, Qatar, and Turkey are only reinforcing and accentuating these factors. Yet even if these countries took a step back, it is hard to imagine how Libya gets put back together again. In Libya, like Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Bahrain, leaders and their opponents define their struggles in life and death terms. They talk about the heart and souls of their countries, about their way of life, and about who they are. This is what makes them so hard to resolve and even harder for outsiders to help people of goodwill in these places resolve them.
All this means is that my summer malaise will likely continue into the fall and winter. At least the dead leaves, bare tress, cold temperatures, and darkened skies will correspond to the darkness of my mood.