My first post on this blog was in May of 2011, merely two months after the conflict in Syria first emerged. Despite my intense interest in the Middle East, I've shied away from commenting on it because I haven't felt that I've been able to put my thoughts into some type of coherent post. Given the rise in media attention over the past month, I thought I'd offer some brief insight.
My suspicion is that the logical
starting place is around the nomenclature. It's been termed a civil war,
genocide, revolution, conflict, insurgency, uprising, and numerous
other labels. But what is it? To some degree it's a matter of
perspective, but perhaps more importantly it's a question of not being
able to characterise a movement as any one particular thing. In my
opinion, it's numerous different things simultaneously, which is why I
am attempting to refer to it as a conflict in order to remain rather
vague about it. To frame this more historically, people
are still debating whether or not the American Revolution was in fact a
revolution or whether it was merely a war of independence. Historical events and processes are complicated and take on numerous labels at once.
The origins of the conflict in Syria are connected to the broader Arab Spring movement of 2011. Much unlike the other countries involved, the events in Syria were not short-lived. While other movements ended (Libya), and others have met with intermittent success (Egypt),
Syria is alone in sustaining the climate of revolution and open combat.
It's most certainly the most complicated of all the Arab Spring
movements, and I'd argue that it's definitely the most misunderstood.
a domestic level, the situation is difficult for Westerners to
understand because the lines are not clearly drawn. While it is rather
obvious who represents formal power, the enemies of the state are numerous. Some are self-fashioned Islamist groups while others are claim to be liberal secular moderates. There have been numerous attempts to unite enemies of Bashar al-Assad under a coalition, but these have failed because there are significant disagreements about what a post-Assad nation should look like.
This gets overwhelmingly complicated when the international context is added. Many of the groups fighting in Syria have received support from outside powers, while others have been labelled "terrorist organisations" by Washington and others. This has stopped countries, particularly France, Britain, and the United States, from making commitments to more participation. It is unclear how to intervene without picking allies carefully. The United States and other NATO allies have been burned badly in Iran, Afghanistan, and Libya over the past decade and are naturally hesitant to participate in another highly charged situation. From Russia's perspective, Syria has been an ally
and, while Assad may not be the most likeable character, he is a safer
bet that a radical pro-Western Islamic state. It's only been in the past
few weeks that Moscow has changed its tone regarding Syria, though this has yet to materialise on the ground.
The fact of the matter is that the average citizens of Syria are left to deal with numerous factions fighting one another. The destruction is incomprehensible, with cities virtually destroyed, crops burned, and the innocent subjected to atrocities by all sides. The
road toward a solution is complicated at best, since at this point
numerous factions have been fighting for over two years. Every side has
invested heavily in trying to create a Syria that is synonymous with
their aspirations and values, often directly at odds with those of their
enemies. It's unlikely that Syria will be at peace in the near future,
and when that time does come, resentment will find other ways of