Greetings to all!
This week’s post comes at the close of March, with spring upon us here in the northern hemisphere. It is in this spirit that I will be taking a new format to my end of month posts. Instead of tackling one large issue each month, from now on both a domestic and a foreign issue will be taken on in two posts. This is the first part of the new style, concerning a foreign issue of grave importance: the Syrian Civil War that currently rages on. I post on this issue tonight, and hopefully tomorrow I will take stabs at a topic closer to home.
Moving on from that, we turn our attention to the Middle East. As everyone knows, the Arab Spring was a series of protests across the region in advocacy of greater democracy and end to authoritarianism in the Middle East. It started in Tunisia, but spread to Egypt, Libya, and many other countries as the people began severely pressing for greater freedoms in multiple aspects. As the world watched, the movement spread to Syria. And all hell broke loose. Syria is a very special case in the Middle East, one that takes time to fully understand and appreciate. Since independence, the country had no real stability at all until 1970 when Hafez al-Assad took power over the country. While most people forget the strongman, he controlled Syria for 30 years before his death in 2000. Most people that know him remember him for his tough anti-Israel approach, alliance with Iran, and for placing troops in Lebanon in 1976 (http://www.sfib.org.uk/anything-goes/modern-history-syria) to abate the civil war and to deter resistance to Syria. When his son Bashar al-Assad came to power, most Syrians saw a chance for reform to take place, and some did (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashar_al-Assad). Private banking was introduced, and most importantly in 2005 Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon. But as most know, al-Assad wouldn’t back down. Security is tight in the country, and economic controls are still in place. Political rights are few beyond the Ba’ath party.
Why people were willing to fight the Syrian regime is the most important issue in this civil war. And yes, it’s a civil war. When this many have died and two clear sides have emerged, it is war. Anyways, repression is a very careful path any dictator walks. The risk of going too far and curtailing too much for citizens is ever present. If a leader oppresses his people too much or too often, chances are eventually some will build up the courage and anger to revolt, and violently. This is exemplified by Libya, where deaths in the revolution were nearly immediate following the rising against Gadhafi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Libyan_civil_war). On the other hand, if a dictator is too soft and hands too many freedoms to his people, he unleashes forces longing for more, leading to massive revolution and fragmentation like the Soviet Union experienced during the end of the Gorbachev years (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html). While not necessarily as violent, this leads to far less stability. Syria under the first Assad took the former path, with a harsh powerful leadership under Hafez al-Assad which became intertwined with family, friends, and other Alawite clan members in order to consolidate his minority rule. The military helped him, and the people rarely asked for anything due to fear of speaking out, and with good reason. While his son Bashar has loosened the stranglehold, it is a slow process that won’t satisfy a freedom-thirsty populace that is ever growing. Hafez created an intricate spider web to keep power, and like any web it has many holes. And those holes have been widening with each concession Bashar has made.
With the Arab Spring, common Syrians saw their chance and took it with rebellion. Given some time, it turned violent, and has now become all-out civil war. The Free Syrian Army has become the main symbol of the opposition forces, which have take up arms against the Assad regime and have asked for international aid to bring him down. Likewise, Assad and his complicated network in the government provide for the other side, which has brutally cracked down on opposition and has claimed the involvement of terrorists and other foreign combatants. The complexities of the situation have stalled international efforts to do anything. And now, I give my take. I support Assad. Do NOT take that the wrong way. I do not like the man, his regime, or his father. They are poor leaders, who really never deserved the positions they got. Were I given a way to stop all of this, I would have prevented Hafez from ever taking power in Syria in favor of a better leader for an important country. But what’s done is done. At this point, we need to assess the pros and cons of arming the opposition, along with the outcome. The most important thing to address is the effectiveness of the Assad regime. In a few aspects, it is a good thing. First and foremost, it keeps all minority groups represented and prevents repressive majority rule as seen in Iran and Saudi Arabia. This comes from the fact that the Assads are from the Alawite sect of Islam, which represents a small portion of the country which is mostly Sunni. To protect their kin, Hafez set a system in place which serves to keep all religions and ethnicities in check. Second, leadership by the secular Ba’ath party keeps religion from taking a severely powerful position in the politics of the country. One needs to look only as far as Egypt to see that revolution has resulted in Islamists taking dominance of the body creating the constitution, preventing liberals from having much say (http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/27/2717547/egypts-crisis-deepens-as-non-islamists.html). While giving people the right to govern the way they choose is something I advocate, strongly religious leadership can lead to repression and harsh dictatorship very quickly, and it is very hard to remove once in place. Iran has been extremely conservative and Islamic since the 1979 revolution, and reform efforts in the 1990s only led to clerical backlash. The same could be true for Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood leadership. Lastly, the authoritarian system keeps Syria stable and provides limited stability to its neighbors. Under Assad regime leadership, Syria has engaged in relatively few wars in a region which has had countless numbers of them. Without that in place, more than Syria and its people will be at risk.
However, there are benefits to an overthrow of Assad and the entire system he and his father created. The first is democracy. While pretty much everyone advocates democracy, I do not. I certainly like it and believe it’s nice in some circumstances, but there is a reason I’m not a socialist. I believe that democracy can hinder progress at times, and that democracy can harm those involved if used correctly by leaders. However, I do think Syria could use some democracy. If Bashar can’t step down, he can at least allow for peaceful dissent and more political parties which give some sense of different opinions. He has already started on this path, and I wish for it to continue. The thing I fear from Syrian democracy is the chance that the Sunni majority will exert enormous power in the government, abolishing all opposition “legally” and setting up a system of their choice which ignores minorities like Christians and Jews. I also fear terrorist influence in the government. We know that Al-Qaeda is active in the region, and that in the past year has participated in Libya and Yemen (http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=48575, http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/clashes_between_al_qaeda_militants_YD6X99Ciz3VilN7HsE0DKI). What’s to stop them from taking part in the war and then the leadership of the country? The second thing I fear is destabilization. Tearing down the regime in Syria quickly will result in an explosive reaction from Syrians. There will of course be joy and celebrations. But that can deteriorate. There can be severe violence, along with huge debate about the future of the country in new rebel hands. Most rebels are not leaders of the country, and the alliances against Assad have stated few political goals or views beyond taking down the regime. How do they plan to lead the country? Open up judicial restrictions? Wean Syria off its slowly growing dependence on oil which will have to be net imported within the next few years? These are serious issues the opposition is scarcely ready to tackle, but that Bashar al-Assad can take time to address and possibly solve if kept in power.
Unfortunately, little progress can be made without some changes to take place. I take the stand that Russia and China have advocated, in that both sides need to drop their weapons and begin negotiations so this conflict can end. Whether we like it or not, there is death, violence, and torture on both sides. All life matters in my eyes, and with each death this war becomes more costly and pointless. Everyone knows that concessions are easier to make when neither side is physically attacking the other. There is less tension in place, allowing people to clear their heads and focus on the task at hand rather than the violent operations occurring. So in order for all this to end and peace to reign free again, I ask both Bashar al-Assad and his government to drop their arms alongside the Syrian opposition. This way, real efforts at change can be made without an entire government collapsing and endangering the region, especially Lebanon. When Beirut was destroyed, nobody was happy. Let’s not let that happen to Damascus, a city with rich history which deserves respect.
That is all for this time. If you would like to ask questions, pose comments, etc., you can do so right here. My Facebook and Twitter are active, along with my email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you must, my Google+ account is open, although I rarely check it so don’t expect immediate responses from that outlet. And I am signing off.