Monday, April 2, 2012

Are They Syrious?

Arab Spring fever is contagious, and Syria isn't immune. While the world focused on the revolutions and political changes occurring in Middle Eastern countries—such as Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt—Syria silently underwent the same transformations. Yet with government prohibition of information sites like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, it has remained largely unnoticed—until now.
Former president of Syria: Hafez al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria
            Months ago—unbeknownst to the Syrian government—reporters Bouvier, Espinosa, and Colvin accompanied by photographers Daniels, Conroy and Ochlik, crossed the border into Syria, and the violence and revolution they found there shocked them—well, not really. Syria has a history of military takeover and extreme violence. Take this charming timeline of events as an example: after declaring independence in 1946, Syria had to wait only three years before a military coup in 1949 which led to the seizure of power in 1951, by an army colonel. Three years later, a military coup in 1954 leads Syria to seek union with Egypt. The union—formed in 1958—lasted three years until Syria—you guessed it—was beset by another coup and seceded. Instability culminated in the takeover by the Ba’ath party until 1966 when a group of officers staged an intra-party coup and led the country into another five years of chaos. Nice. In fact, the only stability provided to the country was six years later, when Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad staged a final, non-violent coup and took immediate control, becoming the longest lasting political institution within Syria within the past nine decades. For good reason too: as soon as he took control, Hafez, moved to create an effective political infrastructure that included the People’s Council--a 173-member legislature, local councils and regional elections. With all this being said, the government was still totalitarian and not even the Council could override the President’s decision, but the people were pleased, and Hafez remained until his death in 2000.
Protestors across Syria were met by brutal armed forces

The revolt           
After this, his son, Bashar al-Assad, took power, and surprisingly, become adept at ruling fairly quickly. Syria has almost no oil or economic power and derives its influence from playing a strategic position in the Middle East that led Bashar to nurture alliances with Iraq, promote terrorist activities against Israel and dominate Lebanon. In other words: Assad wants power. Really, in many ways, the revolution that is underway in his country is his own fault. Wary of the regional unrest, Bashar pounced on the first sign of dissent in his country, arresting teenagers that had spray-painted a common Arab Springs slogan on a wall: “The people want the fall of the regime”. This incident—March 6—was the tipping point that led to protests in Daraa. Instead of pacifying the people, Assad merely retaliated with security forces, intensifying the revolt. Indeed, this level of brutality has characterized Assad’s entire reaction to the revolution. Looking at other Middle Eastern rulers like Ghadafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali, Assad doesn’t think “Hmmm, I probably shouldn’t be as violent as them, because they were all ousted from power”, his thought process is more like, “Those men were taken from power because they weren’t violent enough, so I’m going to kill more citizens”. So that’s what he did. Shutting down all sources of outside communication, his security forces rained down missiles and bullets upon protestors, raising the death toll to well above 7,500 so far. It had precedent too: In 1982, his father, Hafez Assad put down a similar uprising in the city of Hama, killing 10,000 people and restoring power to his regime. The same might have happened, had not the afore-mentioned journalists come at the opportune time. Stationed in the city of Homs, Bab Amr region, they were consistently targeted by a government determined not to let the conflict be spread to the world. Colvin and Ochlik gave their lives, but the others returned, notifying the Western powers of the ongoing situation.

Why the U.S. shouldn’t step in
             This is the part where historically, the U.S. rushes to the aid of Syrian citizens like a man to a wounded puppy, and then weeks later, pictures of aid workers with smiling locals are released and defaced statues and portraits of Assad crumble to the dust in the streets of Damascus. Wrong. Let me tell you why. 1. The U.S. can’t afford to. We’re already drawing troops out of the Middle East and we’re broker than broke. Stationing more troops in a different area of the same region would be counterproductive and dangerous. 2. Assad can’t be removed. Despite his attacks on the people and against the protestors, Bashar al-Assad remains one of the most popular leaders within the Middle East. His relations with other countries that has allowed Syria to remain relatively powerful despite their limited resources is something that Syrian citizens do not hold lightly and therefore, removing him would harm the people more than it could benefit them and cause anti-American sentiments that—let’s face it--are already pretty thick around there. 3. It doesn’t benefit us. Historically, the U.S. intervenes for political reasons, establishing a government so that other powers cannot intervene and take control. We can look at examples like the Taliban or historically, Communists, all day but we should probably wrap this up. Either way, Russia and China already have the most decisive say in Syria and so the U.S. wont be able to step in, in a meaningful way anytime soon. Additionally, while the government does support some terrorist measures, destroying an established regime would in all likelihood only lead to more corruption and anti-Israel aid.

What happened, and why we should all be happy about it
             As news of what was happening in Syria sunk in, the United Nations moved quickly, asserting authority and demanding that Assad stop his brutal control tactics. Assad refused all of these continuing demands, but finally on March 27, he agreed to a peace plan proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Urged on by Russia and China, Assad will agree to a cease-fire and political solution. Yet in this plan, the Syrian people still get to choose whether to allow him to remain in power. And its looking more and more likely that they will. It may not be your typical happy ending: Tyrannical despot remains in power despite brutal crackdown on revolution. But, the killings stop, the Syrians get to keep a stable government, the U.S. doesn’t have to get involved, and somehow, Assad remains.

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