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Weeks after the United States announced its intention to withdraw armed forces from Syria, Undersecretary General for the United Nations Staffan de Mistura reminisced on near-fruitful peace attempts spearheaded by the United Nations during a campus discussion forum on Wednesday.

The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs presented the inaugural Jackson Fellow Discussion Forum which was called “Syria and the Failure of World Order: Where Do We Go From Here?” Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford moderated the event and discussed his experiences with international relations in the Middle Eastern country. As former U.N. chief mediator for Syria, Mistura previously served in numerous conflict zones and directed complex relief operations. Director of the Jackson Institute Jim Levinsohn gave opening remarks to more than 100 attendees packed into Horchow Hall.

“I can’t think of a more timely, more relevant or a more pressing topic,” said Levinsohn.

Weeks prior, United States President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw troops from Syria. The decision was quickly followed by a Turkish invasion in Syria and suppression of the Kurdish nation — a former U.S. ally that has since aligned itself with the Syrian government. Mistura’s tenure came long before the recent diplomatic shifts, but during his time at the U.N., he grappled with a refugee crisis in the region and attempted to negotiate who will hold power in the country.

The discussion began with Ford’s question on what differentiated Mistura’s experiences in Syria from his encounters in other regions, specifically Afghanistan and Iraq. Mistura answered that other countries paid more attention to “the extremely influential and powerful presidents, particularly of the U.S.” Working with Syria was more difficult because he didn’t have a similar level of authority in his negotiations with the country’s representatives, Mistura said.

At the event, Mistura, who worked as the special envoy for the U.N. from 2014 to 2019, also reminisced on the “magic moment” — when many believed international powers that there was an opportunity for change in the Middle East. He said this opportunity resulted from three factors: Russian intervention in Syria, Syria’s refugee crisis and the Ebola crisis.

Mistura said he attempted a peace deal but was ultimately unsuccessful due to bad timing. After the United States Air Force conducted a “mistake bombing” on a Syrian military base, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decided not to go through with the negotiations, Mistura said.

“What I liked about Ford was how human he is — how he connects love, life and war,” said Elisabeth Anton ’89.

Anton said she attended the talk because she is interested in the European Union’s involvement in the Syrian refugee crisis.

After nearly 45 minutes of discussion, Ford opened the event up to questions from the audience. One attendee asked Mistura what the sociopolitical fabric of Syria will look like in the future.

“It is going to take decades to rebuild,” said Ford. He added that the best way to avoid a future crisis like the one at hand is prevention at the initial stages of the conflict.

Horchow Hall is located at 55 Hillhouse Ave.

Waruguru Kibuga |