I put up this map of Syria as the primary graphic accompaniment to this story in order to show people just where the country is located in relation to the rest of the cesspool that is the Middle East.
Syria lies just to the northeast of Israel, our lone reliable ally in the region, and the single nation that we need to be concerned with helping there. It lies up against the western border of Iraq, still a dangerous place in itself, despite our efforts of the past decade.
Now, like every nation, Syria has a long, deep, rich history that cannot be perfectly encapsulated in any short blurb of a story. But perhaps most importantly, today it is the site of major internal conflict between the Islamic Sunni and Shia factions and their allies.
For nearly five decades, from 1963-2011, Syria was under Emergency Law, ostensibly due to the ongoing tensions and at times war with Israel over the Golan Heights. This effectively suspended most constitutional protections for its citizens.
Bashar al-Assad, currently accused by the Obama administration of using chemical weapons on his own citizens, has been President since 2000, when he took over the reigns from his father who had served for 30 years.
In December of 2010, what has become known as the ‘Arab Spring’ began, a series of both violent and non-violent uprisings, demonstrations, protests, riots, and civil wars across the Arab world.
The aims were to overthrow and end the rule of authoritarian regimes that were politically corrupt and that in many cases stood accused of committing human rights violations. The movement has resulted thus far in the overthrowing of regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen.
In March 2011, the Arab Spring came to Syria in the beginning of the current civil war between Assad’s loyalists and members of the opposition group known as the ‘Syrian National Coalition’. In 2012, a new constitution was adopted that made Syria a semi-presidential republic.
However, for many reasons, including the history of the Assad regime, the SNC has been recognized by a number of nations, including the US, as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian peoples.
There is always an undercurrent of Islam in the Middle East, and this conflict is no different. The majority of the rebels are Sunni Muslims, while the government and its supporters are mostly ‘Alawites’, a branch of Islam closely related to the Shia school.
Explaining the differences of all these groups to non-followers is another article altogether. Look it up if you’re interested. But know this – they don’t like one another, and it goes back hundreds of years.
Despite the alleged new constitutional protections, most human rights groups rate Syria as “not free”, with torture, rape, arbitrary detention, kidnapping, censorship and other human rights violations considered the norm by the government. The government now stands accused of using chemical weapons last month against those sympathetic to the rebel cause.
Some 60% of the Syrian population identifies as Sunni, while just 13% are Shia, including President al-Assad’s family, which is of the Alawite faction of Shia Islam. Despite their national minority, Alawites dominate the government.
While the civil war has largely been between the Shia and Sunni factions, there has been a ‘shadow war’ against Christianity, with a number of Christian churches destroyed, and with the formerly 10% Christian population largely fleeing the country.
The bottom line in the civil war in Syria is power. The regime led by al-Assad is trying to retain it, and is apparently willing to use whatever means is necessary to do so. The SNC is trying to take it away, possibly to bring democratic freedom to the region, possibly to become dominated by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, who have tried and failed to take over in Syria previously.
Do you hear much talk about the radical Islamists who run rampant on the rebel side, including al Qaeda? Didn’t think so, but that is a major factor that needs more discussion and consideration.
Right now, President Obama is backing the SNC. He has his publicly announced human rights reasons, and my belief is that he likely has some personal and/or religious reasons as well. But in any event, the wisdom of getting involved in any way in Middle East conflicts has to be questioned. If there is one thing that the world should have learned over the last thousand years or more is that peace is not coming to that region. We cannot pick winners and losers – they’re all losers, except for Israel.
The only position the United States should be taking, the only “red line in the sand” that we should be drawing, should be involving attacks and provocations involving the Israelis (or ourselves being attacked directly, of course.)
We are too dependent on Arab oil, that much is well-established, and we need to immediately begin addressing that dependency and drawing on alternatives, including those right here in our own region, in our own nation.
Entering the Syrian cesspool is, frankly, stupid and comes with little to no positive effect. Obama’s claim that they need to know “that we mean what we say” is nothing more than a call to allow him to flex his muscles. It comes with no lasting change, will allow al-Assad to laugh at us once it’s over and resume his activities further strengthened, and may encourage a wider conflagration of hostilities that ultimately draws in the Israelis, increasing the odds that we go in with ground forces.
Mr. Obama is naive to think that he can simply lob a few missiles at strategic sites and get the leader of a Middle East regime to cower to his wishes. There is only one way to eliminate those types of folks – go in and get them, as we did with Saddam Hussein. No one in the Obama administration has the stomach to do that here.
The United States policy should be to remain internally strong, maintain and increase our technological and military superiority over every other nation, bring home the vast majority of our war-weary troops and give them a much deserved and needed break from combat/policing situations, and remain engaged through a diplomacy that leaves no doubt of the true ‘red line in the sand’ around the Israeli borders.
There are human rights atrocities committed constantly around the world, not only in Syria and other nations of the Middle East, but in Africa, South America, Asia, and other areas. You don’t see us running in there with our military, lobbing missiles at encampments in those areas, and drawing a ‘red line in the jungle’, or a ‘red line in the snow’, or whatever that environment.
America needs to stop drawing so many ‘red lines in the sand’, and stay out of the cesspool that is the Middle East, this time in Syria.