Since March 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria. It’s taken two and half years, but people in the United States are finally talking about the civil war. I’ve seen multiple articles scattered around the internet attempting to explain the situation (and almost always falling pathetically short). This post is aimed at filling in some gaps.
One article stands out in particular: a Washington Post article entitled “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” by Max Fisher.
1. What is Syria?
Syria is a country. Let’s move on.
2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?
Mr. Fisher doesn’t aim to answer this question accurately at all. So yes, it’s true that the civil uprising began in March/April 2011 and protests around the country swelled. It also happens to be true that the government did respond “like monsters”. But this is only half of the story.
In April 2011, there were also protests around the country in support of Assad and the current government. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of people. These protests, however, didn’t receive the fanfare in the Western media. This is because the narrative in the West, from the beginning, has been about how a terrible dictator is killing his people. It happens to be a bit more complex.
To further complicate said narrative, on July 29th, 2011, a conglomerate of defected soldiers and random people established the “Free Syrian Army”. The Free Syrian Army remains the major oppositional force in Syria, fighting alongside (and oftentimes against) other groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement. Since the beginning, the rebels have had a difficult time developing any cohesive program, which has resulted in a civil war within a civil war.
On top of this, the FSA is a difficult organization to pin down. Some representatives claim that they want to establish a secular democracy. Some talk about an Islamic republic. All they can agree on is that they want Assad out of power. Keep in mind that this is the organization that gets its funding from Qatar, Turkey, Israel, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia.
Ultimately, people in Syria are killing each other, because they disagree on who should be in charge. Supporters of the government want Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army doesn’t really agree on who they want in charge (but I can guarantee you it’s a Sunni Arab male), and Al-Qaeda wants an state that wouldn’t be too radically different from Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.
It went “wrong” in Syria for a lot of reasons. One of the major reasons, which you’re never going to hear from the media, is that the opposition picked up guns. In the West, we’ve acted as though armed rebellion was totally justified, even though that’s exactly what threw the country into this bloody civil war. In fact, the opposition group that hasn’t been talked about at all is the nonviolent opposition.
4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?
Let’s flip this: I hear a lot about how the U.S. still loves the rebels, though. And Saudi Arabia, too. What’s their deal?
The fact of the matter is that countries have their interests and act accordingly. Russia and Iran have a vested interest in seeing a stable and united Syria under Assad. Meanwhile, the U.S. has a vested interest in seeing an unstable Syria weaken Iran and Hezbollah. The loss of civilian lives is meaningless in the face of vital national interests.
So yes, the harsh reality is that governments do what they need to do, regardless of how many innocent people have to die in the process. Don’t believe me? Look at Darfur, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tibet and Xinjiang…
5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?
I thought about putting a pro-government song here, just to contrast the original article, however that would be in poor taste. It also would misrepresent my views on the issue, because I’m not pro-Assad.
6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?
Here’s the big issue.
The United States hasn’t “fixed this yet”, because the United States is contributing to it. It is in the interest of the United States to see this war continue. That’s why it’s not even threatening to overthrow Assad.
Because right now you have members of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah killing each other. You have Iran’s strongest ally in the Middle East faltering. You have Israel easily bombing southern Syria and continuing the occupation of the Golan Heights with no issues. At the same time, sectarian divisions are being exacerbated throughout the Middle East, which keeps too many of these countries from uniting and having more control over their oil.
7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?
The real answer is because Assad is winning. Striking at Assad would only weaken his forces and prolong the civil war. There is no “punishment” for using chemical weapons, because the rebels used chemical weapons in May and totally got away with it. Why would we want to prolong the civil war? See above.
8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.
I’m going to have to say this over and over and over, but:
ASSAD HAS NOT KILLED 100,000 PEOPLE WITH BULLETS AND BOMBS!
That number – 100,000 – is the number of people who have died in the civil war. That includes civilians, rebels, terrorists, priests, imams, soldiers, police officers, government officials, and everyone in between. To say that Assad has killed 100,000 people is total nonsense.
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT ASSAD USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS
At least, not yet. The U.N. is still working on information gathering and hasn’t released any reports. Until the U.N. does so, everyone is relying on selected U.S. intelligence. And even U.S. intelligence analysts think it might have been the rebels! After all, it wouldn’t even be logical for Assad to have used chemical weapons, considering that he had U.N. inspectors in Damascus that day.
So there are some underlying questions left:
If it was the rebels, then are we going to retract any support for them? Didn’t they cross Obama’s “red line” in May? Why is the United States acting with such blatant hypocrisy?
Think about it.
9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?
The United States is maybe going to bomb a sovereign nation based on little evidence and a big ego.