What you need to know about Syria: It’s complicated

Photo: courtesy of cnn.com

By Lauren Pinkston

September 18, 2013

When asked what students need to know about the conflict in Syria, Professor of Political Science Patrick Homan remarked, “It’s complicated. I think that’s the headline of your story.”

Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has been in a civil war for over two years with Syrian rebels. The conflict has resulted in the death of over 100,000 people and millions of misplaced refugees. The government’s use of chemical weapons in August has led to an international debate of possible intervention.

“More than 1,400 have died from chemical weapons,” Homan said. Homan explained in total, there have been over 100,000 victims of the Syrian civil war.

President Obama has been reluctant to get involved. Instead, he set a “red line,” which entailed that the United States would not get involved in Syrian conflict unless chemical weapons were used.

In an August 2012 press conference, President Obama stated, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving calculus. That would change my equation.”

One year later, the Syrian government crossed the red line by using chemical weapons.

“If he hadn’t drawn this red line, the situation would be a little bit less serious,” Homan explained. “Now, he is bound by his words to do something. He has made a threat, and if he doesn’t follow through, he is sending a message to other countries like Iran that we won’t back it up with some sort of military force.”

Since the attack, the international community has disputed over a resolution and has remained divided, while President Obama has continued to urge a military strike. President Obama has made it clear that he intends for no American soldiers to set foot in Syria. Instead, he is planning for an airstrike.

“What are we really accomplishing by doing this?” Homan questioned.  “Are we going down a slippery slope where one military action will lead to another? Whether or not this strike will do anything is hard to say.”

Without backing from the United States’ traditional ally, Great Britain, President Obama is seeking legitimacy within the country to support the strike. Yet, the majority of congress doubts the validity of a strike.

“Presidents, even anti-war presidents and Nobel Peace Prize winning presidents like Obama, are pressured to do things when it comes to international conflict,” Chris Colmo, political science department chair, said.

Russia, Syria’s long-term ally, has negotiated the possibility of confiscating Syria’s chemical weapons for the international community to destroy. This would eliminate the need for United States military strike.

“I would say that hopefully cooler heads are prevailing, which is what’s been happening with Russia,” Homan said.

While this may bring relief to some, there are fears from many Americans, specifically members of Congress, as to the United States’ role in this international conflict.

“Are we responsible for everybody’s civil war, so that if it goes beyond a certain point, we must intervene?” Colmo questioned. “Are we responsible for stamping out the use of all weapons of mass destructions, or just chemical weapons?”

Members of Congress and political scientists question whether there is an ideal party to side with in the civil war.

Colmo explained that the rebels fighting Assad come from varying backgrounds and have different appeals as to the future of their government. While some are looking for a western liberal government, many more are looking for something similar to a Taliban-style government and some factions of rebels have ties to al-Qaeda. The rebels also have been known to commit heinous crimes, both accused of using chemical weapons and held responsible for a large portion of the deaths in the Syrian civil war.

“Getting rid of Assad might bring in a more radical government,” Colmo explained.

As the conflict in Syria develops, each nation, political party, politician and citizen takes a stand on the issue, but there is no clear answer as to which stance is the right one.

Homan tries to answer that question.

“There’s never a clear right and wrong answer,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to achieve a happy ending in international politics, so you try to do the best that you can, but there are still terrible people in this world. You hope that the United States will be able to help and stop these bad things from happening in the world, but it’s never going to be that easy.”