May 20, 2013

Guest Post: The Current State of Syria

As part of our effort to highlight the work of Anderson students and alumni, the authors have agreed to share the following piece from an assignment on American foreign policy. Despite being written last November, the piece holds up well due to the lack of a real global consensus on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Students Mackenzie Scholte and Ryan Busby propose in this essay a humanitarian coalition to respond to the growing refugee problem resulting from the Syrian civil war.


The Current State of Syria

Mackenzie Scholte and Ryan Busby

The United States should support any peaceful intervention efforts made by the UN in Syria. It would be in the interest of all states to be part of a peaceful resolution to ensure the safety of the Syrian people. However, due to the failed efforts of Kofi Annan, it is imperative that the U.S. becomes a presence in Syria.

This is for the protection of the Syrian people in a post-haste effort to move the millions of refugees out of the country as safely as possible. Jordan has already registered over 85,000 refugees and Turkey more than 78,000. Lebanon and Iraq are all willing and able to take in refugees, as long as the necessary resources are available for such a mass movement of people.

In an effort to protect as many innocent Syrian lives as possible, the United States should launch a compound humanitarian aid campaign. The first aspect is to effectively and safely help transport endangered Syrians to host countries. This would entail organizing a “humanitarian coalition” to cordon off Syrian border areas to ensure the safety of the oppressed Syrians. In a joint effort with Syria’s neighboring states, more efficient and better supplied refugee camps would be implemented. The United States should also make it vocally known that it supports a peaceful regime change towards democracy, and is willing to mediate and aid in resolving the conflict as peacefully as possible.

While the United States wishes to see a peaceful removal of Assad’s regime from power, military strength can also be effective in aiding this process. For this reason, it would be in the interest of the United States to provide basic military supplies to the recently established National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Many analysts have voiced concern about the stability of the region as there is a rising militia force growing with the Syrian Kurds with the hopes of achieving autonomy in the region. The United States would offer weapons under the condition that the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces works with the Kurds and offers them citizenship after the conflict subsides.

This policy would be effective for three main reasons. The first being the obvious humanitarian effort to save millions of refugees from the current slaughter going on within the borders. Already having more than 30,000 deaths since March of 2011, it is hard to estimate how many thousands of lives would be saved due to these efforts. The second benefit of this policy would be the inevitable gain of soft power. Working hand in hand with the neighboring states of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, we would see a sympathetic gain in trust among these nations, beneficial to the current unrest in the Middle East. Also any nation included in the “humanitarian coalition” would more than likely become a tighter ally when working together in this humanitarian effort.

The third and final reason this would be an effective policy is from preventing a larger Middle Eastern conflict from ensuing. Once the Assad regime is toppled, there will be a power vacuum created, which the Kurds are already preparing for as they have hoped for autonomy for many years. The Kurds also have a significant presence in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, who have all stated they would take violent action against any Kurdish uprising. By including the Kurds and getting them to work with the rebels, there would be a greater chance for the Kurds to receive citizenship under a new Syrian democracy. Tensions will be quelled and greater order restored to the country as well as the surrounding region.

It is easier to understand the current policy of the United States towards Syria when a brief history of the conflict in provided. The political uprisings of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011 did not go unnoticed by the people of Syria. Following the lead of other Middle Eastern counterparts, on January 26th, 2011 Hasan Ali Akleh poured gasoline on his body and ignited himself on fire. Anti-government protests escalated quickly in the cities of Damascus and Deraa. On March 6th, two students were arrested for writing statements on city walls that were blatantly anti-Assad and his regime. The arrest of the boys triggered more protests and hunger strikes throughout the nation. Within nine days of the boys’ arrest protests had spread from Damascus and Deraa to al-Hasakah, Deir ez-Zor, and Hama. By the end of March, the protests had spread even further to include the cities of Homs, Baniyas, Jasim, Aleppo, and Latakia. The protesters involved by this point numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Syrian police forces responded to the protests using tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition; the earliest reports showed that at least one hundred people had already been killed in the protests. The Syrian people were fully enraged and engaged in the uprising and hopeful for the overthrow of the Assad regime.

The Syrian uprising at first appeared to be following the same path as the other uprisings of the Arab Spring. While the death toll was at first slow to climb, in the spring of 2012 it reached 10,000 deaths. The severity of the situation has only intensified with the number of deaths doubling by July 2012. After eighteen months there has been little to no change in the position of the regime or its protesters. With fatalities increasing exponentially, it is becoming clear that this is not an uprising: this is a civil war.

On October 4th, 2011 the UN Security Council presented a resolution reprimanding Syria, but it was vetoed by Syrian allies Russia and China. This has happened multiple times in the time since.

In April of 2012, United Nations envoy Kofi Annan presented a six point peace plan, backed by all states, which ordered a ceasefire in Syria. This plan did not call for the removal of President Assad from power. Violence continued to ensue even after the peace plan was in place. Kofi resigned, leaving Lakhdar Brahimi as his successor. Since this, there has been little agreement and there is currently no plan of intervention from the UN or the US.

The US has refrained from any sort of military intervention in Syria as a means to preserve peaceful relations between Russia, Iran, and China. In August of 2012, the US did increase humanitarian aid. However, there have been voices from within Congress suggesting that the United States arm the Syrian National Council in an attempt to overthrow Assad and institute a democracy. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham propose that aiding the rebels would help Washington’s effort to weaken Iran.

Much like the US, the international community is very conflicted about the direction to take intervention (or lack thereof) in the case of Syria. For the first several months of the initial protests no nations or coalitions issued any definitive statements regarding their policies. It wasn’t until May 10th, 2011 that the European Union issued a sanction list of thirteen Syrian government officials, including Assad’s brother, Maher. On August 7th, five months after the arrest of the two young graffiti artists, the Arab League made its first public statement regarding the situation; the Arab League did not support the actions of the Syrian government. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain all recalled their ambassadors on the same day.

In recent weeks several heads of state have made definitive statements on their policy toward Syria. French President Francois Hollande made it clear that the UN is responsible for protecting those oppressed by the Assad regime. He also stated that the Assad regime must step down because they no longer have a place on the global, political stage. In his first speech before the United Nations, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stated that Egypt did not support any international military intervention but preferred an “inclusive, negotiated settlement” ( Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement before foreign diplomats in Moscow saying that while Russia supports an international effort to transition out of the Assad regime a “bloody regime change would only fuel further unrest."

With regards to the potential of a Kurdish uprising, the Kurds have faced much oppression in the past few decades in Syria. In 1962 the majority of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and labeled aliens. To this day the Kurds are still being blocked from achieving citizenship and face ongoing oppression in Syria as well as the surrounding states. If the Kurds were to be granted legal status in Syria, this could provide a haven for many Kurds in the region, which would help satisfy their growing want for autonomy.

Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq all have large amounts of registered refugees harbored behind their borders. Turkey, once one of Syria’s strongest allies, is harboring the Free Syrian Army. Although this opposition group may not be large enough to play a major role in the resistance, it is still monumental in the fact that Turkey is taking a definite response to the Syrian uprising. It is reported that 2.5 million Syrian people are still in need of refuge. The state of Syria will remain unresolved unless the United States or an international coalition takes action.

Mackenzie Scholte is a senior at Anderson University majoring in political science and economics with a minor in nonprofit leadership. Her main interest is the study of the Middle East. Mackenzie is also involved in Model UN, the Center for Public Service, and L'amifidel.

Ryan Busby is a senior at Anderson University majoring in Political Science and Economics. Ryan is president of the Dativus service and social club, enjoys playing rugby and is involved in Model UN.

*This paper was initially written as part of an academic exercise and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Anderson University, or the past, present, or future employers of the authors.

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