By Carly Fabian
Carly Fabian is a participant in STAND’s Guide to Navigating the Blogosphere. Interested in getting lessons on best practices for blogging and writing on conflict and mass atrocities prevention issues? Join the program! The program is intended to train students to effectively express their own views on international human rights issues; consequently, the views expressed in Blogging Bootcamp posts are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect official STAND policy stances.
Now that the campaign season is over in the US, attention should return to the ongoing violence in Syria. After two exhausting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the memory of the Black Hawk Down catastrophe in Somalia still looming on the mind of all US government officials, the US can hardly be expected to jump into military action in the Middle East. If the conflict in Syria is simply a civil war, the US can feel no serious obligation to be involved in the conflict with anything more than monetary aid and weapons arranged through foreign states. However, the conflict in Syria isn’t a fight for power or religion; the Syrian government is decimating its people, and the US needs to address it as the devastating humanitarian crisis that it has become. Since its founding, the US has liked to think that it has the role of protector of the people and democracy in the world, but that image has been lost in recent years in the Middle East. If the US wants to establish its legitimacy once again, now is the time to claim back that role back and Syria is the place to do it.
The Obama administration is trying its most aggressive strategy yet by attempting to form a new council of leadership for Syria, but it is only considered aggressive because it is being compared to the weak and ineffectual policies of the past. Secretary Clinton publicly denounced the Syrian National Council on the 31st saying, “There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom. This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes, but have, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years.” Hundreds of opposition leaders met in Qatar this past Wednesday to form a new council. While the first meeting and initial diplomatic actions by the council went over smoothly, there is always the easy possibility that the council will fail to gain support and lead effectually, and if this happens, the US cannot become discouraged from further involvement. The council diplomacy should be backed up, not just with strong words, but with strong actions. If the US wants to provide a pathway for a stable transitional government, then they must address the issues of refugees and Islamic extremism themselves.
Syria’s neighbors, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, have taken in refugees, feeding and housing them at their own expense, but as the conflict drags on, the governments are finding it harder to come up with the money to feed and care for refugees who cannot work. The citizens of neighboring countries are protesting, and the refugees are growing restless. As the violence spills over the Syrian borders, both the governments and the people of the neighboring countries are becoming angry, and are turning away more and more refugees. The longer the war drags on, the worse the situation will be for the refugees.
The US fears an Islamic extremist state in Syria more than a Syria that remains permanently mired in civil war, yet it has provided no solution for fighting extremism. They have pretentiously told opposition leaders to abstain from extremism, but have offered few incentives, demands, or strategies to actually prevent extremism from dominating. Military leaders on the ground care nothing for high-level foreign politics, and while they don’t agree with extremism, they face the choice of whether the ends justify the means. If Islamic extremism brings guns and money, most military leaders will not turn them away because the US, which has largely, ignored the plight of the Syrians, asks them too. It should be noted that as the US and Israel have found with displaced Palestinians and the Intifada, refugee camps are the perfect breeding grounds for terrorism.
If the US is going to move forward and start taking a serious stance in Syria, they have to address Syria as a destructive humanitarian conflict, care for the refugees, and provide an attractive alternative to Islamic extremism. Making Syria out to be a highly complicated war in the Middle East allows the American public to think that it is an issue in which the U.S. government should not be involved. If the US begins to address the conflict in Syria more as a human rights crisis, then popular support will aid government efforts. The US likes to think it has the role of protector of people and democracy in the world, but that image has been lost in recent years in the Middle East. If the US wants to establish its legitimacy once again, now is the time to claim back that role back and Syria is the place to do it.