By: Nick Scott
Doubtless by now, most of you reading this will be at least vaguely aware of what’s going on in Syria. Since 2011, a military crackdown on Arab Spring protests in the country have led to a civil war that has ripped through the country. There are a dizzying number of factions; It’s not a simple matter of “the rebels vs. the Empire”.
First, there’s the government forces of current President Bashar al-Assad, which is largely Alawite, a sect of Shia Islam. They possess the support of some militant groups, notably Hezbollah. Their external support relies heavily on Iran and Russia (with a very heavy emphasis on Russia).
Then there’s the opposition, which itself is composed of various factions, many of which could not be any more different; For example, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and the Islamic State are all present in the region, but all have completely different reasons and goals in mind for fighting Assad. Each different subset of the rebels has support from different foreign powers. The FSA is supported by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, (CJTF-OIR), but the same task force is bombing the Islamic State (ISIS).
Finally there’s the the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish revolutionary group which has taken over most of eastern inland Syria, which is now a de facto autonomous region in the larger state of Rojava. They control the support of the US as well, but Turkey (a US ally), opposes them, and is supporting the YPG’s main enemy, ISIS.
If you are familiar with the TV show “Game of Thrones”, then the Syrian civil war should seem vaguely familiar, if only many times more complicated and many times more violent than the conflicts in Westeros and of Slaver’s Bay.
And that’s part of the issue; There are just so many different factions that it’s nearly impossible to know what is going on at any particular point in time. How can you know if the village ahead of you belongs to Assad, the FSA, ISIS, or the YPG? A map is great and all, but really, how current can a map of moving people really be? Unless we’ve somehow obtained the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter, we just can’t know for sure who is who, and where they are at any given time.
With this in mind, I’d like to discuss Western intervention in Syria. I’ve heard and read opinions and pieces that have both denounced and applauded Western (Both US-led and Russian) airstrikes in Syria. The arguments against the airstrikes talk about the political fallout these powers will face within the region once the dust settles, that foreign intervention in fact legitimizes support for the enemy, or that we will be dragged into yet another Middle Eastern conflict with no exit strategy in sight.
Yet, there are also those who cheer on the efforts of the West, who realize that something must be done to prevent the spread of extremism in the region; that ISIS really aren’t the kinds of guys we want fighting “with” us (they’re not fighting with us, by the way).
However, there are problems with both rationales. Firstly, the first argument primarily lobbies for a more “diplomatic” (also known as laissez-faire) approach to the situation, and this is completely and utterly wrong. Not only from a humanitarian standpoint can we sit idly by, but also from a historical standpoint as well.
We are responsible for the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. In a sparknotes, oversimplified approach, the French took over Syria in the early 20th century, and to counter the popular Sunni uprisings they knew would occur, they placed the Alawite Shiite minority sect into positions of administrative and military power. Why? Because the Sunnis hated the Alawites, and the Alawites were terrified of the Sunnis, so they would obey the French, and violently and brutally suppress Sunni uprisings because of their paranoia of what would happen to them if the French left. This worked extremely well for the Alawites; They gained their own state, legal autonomy, low taxation, and other such amenities not usually available to such a small minority group. Because of this power, once the French left, the Sunnis took control, but the Alawites retained their positions in the military, a career Sunnis reviled. The Alawites continued to be overrepresented, and eventually gathered enough power to stage a coup in 1963. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad, (you guessed it!) Bashar al-Assad’s father, came to power, repeating the repressive ideological policies of the French colonial past.
You may read that thinking, “Well that’s the French? What’s that got to do with me?” and in a way, you’d be right. But this policy they implemented was not only used by the French, but by most other imperial powers as well, the US (and most likely Canada to some extent) as well. If we’re going to follow Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilizations, we as a collective, are “The West”, and thus should all answer for our collective actions.
However, with this being said, it’s also true that dropping bombs on the country, hoping that they’ll hit who we want them to hit, is equally as silly and unproductive. All uncertainty aside, it’s bad because we’re literally dropping bombs on everyone but Assad, the guy we (but not Russia) wants gone. Of course, if we dropped bombs on Assad, that would be a declaration of war against a sovereign state, while bombing ISIS is a lot less of a headache, because we`re countering terrorism rather than uprooting governments, (which, let’s face it, the West has done plenty of). The US-led coalition is dropping bombs on ISIS, but this has been largely ineffective to stopping their activities, mostly because the bombings per day have been very low. Counter to this, Russia’s bombing has done more in a week than the coalition has done in months, or years. The only problem is that Russia (at this point it should be remembered that Russia is supporting Assad) is not only bombing ISIS, but also the rebels the coalition supports. This means that overall, the rebel cause against Assad is being weakened greatly, and Assad’s chances of winning the civil war are only increasing. Russian violation of Turkish airspace in their bombings of ISIS has also led to international tension, yet another layer to the teetering cake of insanity that is the Syrian civil war. Although there’s been tentative peace talks at the Geneva I and II conferences, the likelihood of Assad stepping down (which the West demands) are slim, and even slimmer now that Russia is taking care of its opposition.
This is part of a two part article that will continue tomorrow. It will continue from the state of affairs described here and discuss the refugee crisis. Stay tuned.