What is going on in Syria?


Al Jazeera

Alright, time to catch up on current events — well, kind of current, this war (not sure if I want to label it as that) has been going on for like 5 years.

There’s lots of stuff in the news every day, and unless you are familiar with all the developments over time, it seems like A LOT to handle. As of lately, the Syrian crisis is the most-serious conflict of the 21st century, and it’s spawned a whole lot of problems that’s been spreading around the world, including the US.

In the beginning …

Does everyone remember the Arab Spring? This was around 2009-2010 or so when a few protesters in Arabic countries began organizing, protesting, and contesting power of the current regimes. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen all had uprisings. In Libya, Gaddafi (a legend among authoritarian leaders) and some of his family were killed in UN airstrikes. In Yemen, there were uprisings, and Egypt and Tunisia both had revolutions (the effects of which are still developing).

In response to this, kernels of rebellion could be seen in Syria.

One  night, some school-aged children graffitied a wall — something anti-government. They were jailed. And in response, people organized to protest, which spiraled out of control. Following this, there were then organized protests in Damascus, the capitol.

The military was then called in, and hundreds died. When the military stepped in, it was pretty much a huge turning point that helped ensure a war.

Because of the UN airstrikes and such, it’s likely that the leaders of the protests counted on the West’s support (Europe and the US). And the military killings did get the attention of the US, and the US denounced the situation. But, I don’t think the protesters got the international support they were counting on. Eventually, the protesters turned into a bunch of rebel groups, and those small rebel groups allied to create a resistance.

… In effect, what used to be an internal Syrian problem became an international problem very quickly. And when you make a problem international, you attract all sorts of attention from other countries as well — namely, Russia.


Some people just say: Why can’t all the killing just end? Or, why can’t the government include some rebels in decision making? The short answer is that nobody wants to share power — it’s an all or nothing kind of thing; and, honestly, some governments have to be heavy-handed to rule in the Middle East (because a lot of people are fanatically religious, used to violent solutions, and in a lot of cases, they prioritize their faith over their life).

For awhile there, I don’t think anyone in the US was sure who to back. The rebels were cutting heads off people, the government was using biological weapons — so really, which group would be good to create and maintain an impartial, stable government?

Then the CIA began arming rebels, but it can’t just arm any rebels. Remember the Mujahadeen the CIA funded to fight the Soviets in the 1980s? Ya, they became Al Qaeda. So, to minimize that possibility again, the CIA had to (and probably still is) intimately screen US-affiliated rebels, put them through specific training, and then arm them (and hopefully keep an inventory on what arms they get, and be responsible for them after the conflict this time).

And then Assad used biological weapons. Another complication. Eventually, Russia stepped in to broker a deal to move biological weapons out of the country. Syria then agreed to destroy some of it’s biological weapons plants.

But then Israel starts air strikes in Syria! Because, well, they’re worried about spillage of radical fundamentalists, and Israel (rightfully) has an existential outlook for their country. In reaction, Hezbollah aids the Syrian government by sending thousands of troops.

And then there’s the Islamic State, which is trying to gain territory within Syria as well.

There’s also floods of immigrants that are now displaced — and this is where the conflict spills over into the United States. The migrant crisis in Europe is sparking reactions from the right in the US. Some people are afraid of Middle Eastern immigrants coming to America, and others on the right are using the situation to create anti-immigration propaganda. And, more broadly, it’s beginning to fracture countries all over the world.

There are multiple problems in Syria: 1) The government refuses to give up power, 2) even if the rebel alliance were to win the war, who would lead the government? I don’t think there’s clear ideas on that. 3) I haven’t heard any proposals of what a future government would look like. 4) The US wants a democracy, Russia wants a stable Syria. 5) The Islamic State wants territory and fighters. 6) The effect of millions of displaced migrants is causing global outcry, confusion, and anger.

In general, resolving this crisis is going to take time and lots of human suffering.

Possible conclusions?

Well, right now there’s suppose to be a cease fire on both sides, and supposedly representatives from the rebels and some of Assad’s advisers (though not Assad himself) have agreed to sit down to discuss the situation.

But here’s another problem: Russia and the US don’t agree, at a fundamental level, over what should happen. The US wants Assad gone in favor of a pro-Democracy, populist, pro-trade government. Russia’s view is that it wants a stable Syria, and there is no viable alternative to Assad.

So consider this:

In theory, a side wins the war. In this situation, what next? Assad is a dictator, yes. But he also knows the Syrian infrastructure, he has loyalty from the military and police, and he controls the wealth. If a rebel group were to win, then what? Set up a constitution and elect people? Maybe. And then there are worries about legitimate elections, corruption, payoffs, etc …

That happened in Iraq. The problem there was that the “elected” government was still targeting minority religious neighborhoods and groups (in addition to illegitimate elections and payoffs). Perhaps one neighborhood received power that month while the other didn’t. Perhaps jail sentences were harsher for the minorities than the majorities. … So there are problems with simply implanting democracy in the Middle East because of the religious/ethnic tensions.

The good news is that Russia appears to be getting a bit impatient with Assad. Russia is conducting airstrikes, which does indicate support for Assad and an obvious split from the US view. But, how long is Russia committed to this? It’s distanced itself from Assad in the past, and Putin may just calculate that saving Assad isn’t worth it. … who knows …

The bad news in all of this is that millions of people will be displaced, killed, injured, disabled, and disfigured through all of this. Also, these displaced people are now facing racist and prejudice targeting from the far right (both in the US and abroad). This, in turn, may spark a future generation of even more angry terrorists, because the cycle doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

In the end, international violence and instability doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and the Syrian question remains. What is going to happen, and what will be the outcome? It’s anybody’s guess, but whatever it is won’t change the minds of those who survive, which could evolve into a bad situation for both the West, the Middle East, and the international community more broadly.

… And now you’re caught up!



One thought on “What is going on in Syria?

  1. Pingback: What are Human Rights? | Political Ideas and Education

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