Perspectives on Syria

I should really stop visiting the comments sections of major news organisation’s websites, particularly where currently pertaining to Syria. There is a reason that I have an almost negligible respect for the anti-interventionist brigade, which happens to be in the majority, and it can pretty much all be seen under every article on the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Huffington Post… you name it. A deluge of utter morons has descended onto these forums to fill them with the most rank and misinformed perspectives on this issue. Conspiracy theorists, racists and the plain old idiotic who haven’t tried for a second to filter through the storm of information flowing out of the embattled nation seem to be forming this bulk of public opinion.

Here’s a selection of the standard offerings that have recently caused my blood to boil.

  1. “This conflict was engineered by the USA in some sort of regional power play that would benefit Israel.”

This suggestion hardly even warrants attention, as the organic nature of the Arab Spring demonstrably fed into Syria, prompting localized protests against Assad’s regime that were brutally suppressed by Syrian security forces. Assad was already playing the “terrorists” card at this nascent stage of the civil war, causing a backlash of more protests that were also violently suppressed. Large elements of the Syrian army, not to mention the Syrian people, clearly took issue with this murderous tendency of Assad’s, causing desertion and defection to a newly established opposition front. Instead of negotiating, Assad escalated the conflict into a fully fledged civil war.

This all at the same time as US and Israeli relations being as tetchy as ever, and each country having plenty to concern themselves with. Months after the Syrian conflict began, both powers were quite content to ignore what was happening in Syria as Israel once again staged a short war in the Gaza Strip and the USA were deeply involved in Egypt, Libya and ever-so-slightly in trying to unsuccessfully mediate Israeli aggression in Gaza.

Narratively, practically, logically, empirically the first point is total bunk. It likely arises from the fact that the Golan Heights have been of significant strategic important to Israel since they took control of the region following the Six Years War, a conflict that was prompted by repeated antagonisms by Egypt, Jordan and Syria against Israel. Syria used the Golan Heights, which were supposedly demilitarized, to artillery bombard Israeli settlements.

In addition to this, Hamas and Hezbollah have both received extensive support from the Assad government over the course of their lifespans in order to engage in proxy conflict with Israel, a point of no small consternation to successive Israeli governments. There is clearly little love lost between these two nations, and the Syrian conflict is ripe for conspiracy theorists.

  1. “The opposition are terrorists and have perpetrated the majority of the crimes in this conflict. Assad is the noble bastion of secular hope for a country that will otherwise be overrun by jihadists.”

This one is particularly offensive. At this deep and intractable stage of the war, there are indeed terrorist elements operating in Syria, but they are still only a small minority of the fighting element, unless of course you count the entire Assad regime. The Al Nusra front are estimated to have less than 10,000 fighters and are the only group with a known affiliation to Al Qaeda. Other groups with Islamist agendas such as the Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian Islamic Liberation Front promote varying degrees of adherence to Sharia principles and yet are still outnumbered by the ostensibly secular Free Syrian Army, by far the largest opposition element in Syria.

The Free Syrian Army was the earliest manifestation of an organised opposition force, back in the days when this conflict was generously still being called an internal security crisis. They formed off the back of Assad’s repeated employment of despotic measures to suppress calls for more democratic controls in a country that has been led by an Assad since 1971. The FSA has largely been comprised of the Syrian people who put down their trades and businesses and were forced to pick up guns because of Assad’s irreconcilable actions. Their numbers and efficacy were swelled by numerous defections from Assad’s own forces.

Assad and his state media machine have been persistently plugging the myth that all the while he has been fighting unlawful dissidents who threaten the regional stability brought by his regime. Many Western observers probably wrote the entire opposition off as a barbaric entity after a certain YouTube video showed one freak incident involving a rebel fighter cutting flesh from a dead Syrian soldier and having a nibble. Atrocious, yes, but wildly misrepresentative. There are actually other more substantive examples of non-individual controversies being attributable to the opposition forces, such as the use of suicide bombings.

But broad culpability for this war in general, and for the greatest share of specific actions that should chill a person to their core, are the responsibility of Bashar al Assad. As mentioned, he kicked the conflict off by using heavy military apparatus in an indiscriminate fashion against his own people, and perpetuated it likewise. The recent evidence of his use of chemical weapons is almost a moot point.

If the international community had taken decisive action at an earlier stage, we might not now be talking about how difficult intervention is because of the convolution caused by the presence of the the Al Nusra Front. I still don’t believe the existing terrorist element is actually significant enough to erode the secular emphasis of the Syrian nation.

Trying to de-legitimise the entire opposition based on the presence of these minority elements is either painfully misinformed or wilfully disgusting.

  1. “Intervention is stupid. What, you want to stop Syrians dying by killing more Syrians? Warmonger.”

Shut the f@ck up. The reductive simplicity of this statement might make me want to cause you bodily harm. As if “intervention”, a term with a large variety of potential characteristics, implicitly means the West will indiscriminately carpet-bomb Damascus or that we’ll be dumping troops into another desert to slowly perish in a protracted occupation. People have been so quick to write off the effectiveness of any form of military intervention however, that I’m almost tempted to want precisely that so these types can see exactly how effective a well-executed intervention against a fatigued security force in a morale crisis can be.

Analysts and defectors have been quite clear that an array of military targets are available for Western forces to strike, which would have a devastating impact on Assad’s regime were he to lose them.

Accusations of warmongering could not be more ill-conceived. This conflict has been raging for about two and half years and the international community has more or less sat on its hands, being definitively too pathetic to act. It’s an utter tragedy that it’s taken over 100,000 dead and the blatant use of internationally outlawed chemical weapons to stop the world from dragging its feet over Syria.

As it is, the temperament of intervention is currently that the USA have given Assad a one week ultimatum to yield his chemical weapon stocks or face punitive strikes, an ultimatum actually backed by Putin who seems finally unable to ignore his nuisance regional ally. Yeh, that’s really champing at the bit for some death and mayhem.

  1. “But if we do anything at all we’ll upset the delicate regional balance and makes things worse!”

This is the closest thing yet to a respectable anti-interventionist position, as indeed there is a fairly complex network of groups and interests at this point. However, as mentioned the FSA remains the key opposition unit in a country that has largely enjoyed secularism in its recent history, and the notion of an Islamist takeover strikes me as slightly exaggerated.

The main issue I take with this is that it is the same logic that has been applied by other nations from the start. After Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the immediate aftermath of Libya, there has been huge hesitance to do anything about Syria and look where we are now.

So… ok. Let’s keep doing nothing and hope for the best? Yeh. It’ll work itself out. Because the conflict isn’t at all only getting worse under the current conditions.

This one is called a difficult decision, and I put my stock in action at this point. Two and half years of frustration and upset caused by the endless newsreel out of Syria is about as much as I can take. Thus god forbid I was actually a Syrian right now.

Russia, China and Iran, by the way, are about as likely to involve themselves in a war as Ed Miliband is likely to ever possess a shred of moral scruples, or testicles for that matter.

  1. “Iraq here we go again!”

No, and I’m not even sure where to start with this one. I’ll keep it simple. For reasons you should be able to research yourself, Iraq and Syria are completely different and must be judged by their own set of facts. Beyond this, the entire suggested character of Western involvement in Syria is SO different to Iraq that even the French are getting involved this time.

Yes, Hollande has shown a bit more international clout over Libya and Mali than his predecessors, but then add Merkel to the coalition, and Putin marginally stepping away from his unconditioned support of Assad, and you should be wondering less as to why I was so mean about Ed Miliband earlier.

  1. “Intervention is really only about making Obama and Cameron feel good about themselves. Politicians like to massage their own egos with this sort of pointless action”

Again, hideously reductive. You know how racists often say, “I’m not a racist, but…”? The people who use this argument are almost exclusively saying, “We all care deeply for the Syrian people and want their suffering to stop, but… 6.”

Frankly, given how clear this matter is to me, and despite being in the clear minority, I’m starting to suspect that people pulling these daft arguments out are genuinely apathetic to this prolonged conflict, the many tens of thousands of dead, the millions displaced and a country laid to ruin.

Intervention is about stopping this conflict, and it has been demonstrated that intervention could be effective. If you think otherwise, you’re a cynic or worse.

  1. “It’s not our problem, let the Syrians sort it out themselves.”

Well, as heartless as this perspective is, at least it’s honest. I would remind these people to think about their own words the next time they peacefully protest in this country about anything, or better yet, when they go to peacefully vote out this government, or the next, or many to come. Syria might not strictly speaking be our problem but it’s mighty hypocritical not to take into account the joys of living in a country like England.

Let’s just hope we never need any help should our government ever crack down on us Assad style, eh?

I’ve temporarily exhausted myself. But like the thronging crowds at a Victorian grotesquerie who can’t help but look in horror at the Elephant Man, I’ll likely return to these threads to encounter more of the best evidence I’ve seen to date that people can well and truly be utterly deluded.

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