In Syria, a Series of Failures and a Glimmer of Hope
What started in 2011 as a series of Arab Spring protests against the al-Assad regime in Syria has morphed into a full-blown and protracted Civil War with high levels of international intervention, with Western heads seemingly turned away. After eight years, the Syrian Civil War is a strong contender for the most disastrous and brutal military, economic, and humanitarian crisis of the last decade.
The Syrian Rebels are protesting the government led by al-Assad, who succeeded the presidency after his father’s death in 2000. Despite early promises of more democratic rule, Assad has revived the authoritarian tactics of his late father’s administration, including pervasive censorship and surveillance and brutal violence against suspected opponents of the regime. Assad instructed his military forces to combat protestors with extreme levels of violence.
There are numerous Syrian rebel groups, mostly driven by a Sunni Arab majority. Their main goal is to overthrow the authoritarian Assad regime. However, some Sunni Islamists—who are allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda—want to form a fundamentalist Islamic state, similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lack of a central leadership and evident military hierarchy makes the rebel cause complicated and disorganized. The numerous rebel groups are slowly coalescing into larger groups, but the slow process stalls efforts.
The United States, United Kingdom and France originally provided assistance to “moderate” rebel groups. This has since slowly shifted to “non-lethal” aid since jihadist groups deemed too radical by Western governments have emerged the most powerful forces among the rebel opposition. Seemingly having learned from previous conflicts in the region, nations are attributing this pull-back as a means to avoid arming of terrorist groups. It may, however, be contributing to the stalemate which has marred the nation in constant violence with little end in sight.
Turkey has also expressed support for the rebels, but their stated goal is “focused on using them to contain the Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF, accusing it of being an extension of a banned Kurdish rebel group of Turkey. Turkish-backed rebels have controlled territory along the border in north-western Syria since 2016.”
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel support rebel groups, but both are most interested in combating Iranian support of the Syrian government. Saudi Arabia has armed and financed rebel groups and Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes to disrupt shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese political party and militant group.
Both Russia and Iran defend Assad’s regime. In 2015, Russia launched an air campaign largely responsible for giving the Syrian government an upperhand in the conflict. Russian military forces also regularly killed rebels and civilians, despite claims that they only target terrorists. Iran has also sent hundreds of troops and billions of dollars to assist Assad and has also armed, trained, and financed many militias.
In December 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump told soldiers at Al-Asad airbase in Iraq that he had “made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds; we’re not nation building. Rebuilding Syria will require a political solution,” and he is not wrong. The failure on behalf of the United Nations and the Arab League to not only produce an effective and conducive-to-peace policy but to allow for the undermining and henceforth failure of their past policy toward Syria has led the U.S. president to seek withdrawal from Syria.
The 12-member Syria Study Group appointed by Congress wrote in late summer of this year that the Syrian conflict was far from over and advocated against U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan under the premise that without American presence in Syria, ISIS could grow and Russia and Iran could gain more influence. With that, Washington has decided to slow down the withdrawal process but is still determined to leave Syria.
Currently, Turkish and American leadership are working to form a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria that would be occupied by Syrian refugees. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the U.S. of slowing down the process and threatens unilateral military intervention in the creation of the “safe zone.” Turkey, which has accepted 3.6 million Syrian refugees has descended into an economic and political struggle partially due to the added stress which refugees have placed on their economic and political systems.
According to Al Jazeera, the UN released a document this past Saturday mandating a committee to either amend or rewrite Syria’s constitution in order to promote free and fair elections. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem told the United Nations General Assembly that no deadline should be imposed on a new constitutional committee announced on Monday and insisted it be coordinated and ran entirely by Syria with no preconditions set by other countries.
After two years of negotiations, the committee to draft a new constitution for Syria will meet in Geneva on Oct. 30. The outcomes of this meeting will be under close scrutiny and it is hopeful that the new constitution will not only be internationally supported, but locally supported in Syria as well.