I grew up in Syria.
I was born in the US, but the vast majority of my life was spent in the Middle East. In spite of the civil war that’s been raging in my adopted homeland for the past couple of years, I’ve remained largely silent on the issue here on the blog. More than anything else, I’ve done so because I know that there’s really no happy ending to anything I can say. For all my raging and foaming at the mouth, I really and truly don’t enjoy having to lambaste things- more than anytime else when there’s really and truly no light I can see at the end of the tunnel. Nevertheless, with American warships closing in on the Syrian coast and a mountain of evidence growing for the regime having unleashed a chemical attack on its own people, there’s really no keeping quiet at this point.
So here it goes.
I. There Is No Free Syrian Army
If you’ve been watching the situation or if you listen to the news, you may hear the term “Free Syrian Army” or “FSA” thrown around. While initially formed out of deserting Syrian soldiers and officers in the early stages of the conflict, there never really was- and still isn’t- any kind of centralized command. There’s a myriad of different militias and cells in Syria all operating under the banner of the FSA, but there’s really no connection between any of them, militarily, ideologically, or demographically. There’s also no connection, as is otherwise sometimes portrayed, between the self-declared opposition government operating out of Turkey and the FSA- they’re two completely different groups. It’s important to understand this to keep from being led into the false assumption that there’s only two sides to the conflict- the dictatorial regime and the pro-democracy rebels. There’s going to be a temptation to grossly oversimplify the situation- don’t let it happen more than it already has.
II. Democracy Means Not Always Getting What You Want
There’s been an ongoing debate for some time on whether or not the US should arm the rebels. In spite of the racist stereotype of Arabs as being inherently violent people armed to the teeth with AK-47s and suicide vests, guns were actually controlled pretty dang strictly by the regime, and most of the arms are either being smuggled in or taken with deserting soldiers. All that’s to say the rebel factions are viciously outgunned and outstripped in terms of training and military technology.
Now as helpful as arming the rebels would be in toppling the regime (though not necessarily ending the conflict), the immediate reaction in the US to this proposal is “what if those guns get into the wrong hands!?” (I told you the whole there-is-no-one-rebel-group fact was important.) The dilemma for the US and for its allies is that there’s no clear pro-West/pro-American faction out there- arming the rebels means (oh horror of horrors) that the people who eventually take power might not be fans of America or American foreign policy. And that really ticks me off.
You don’t get to hail democracy as the greatest political system on earth and the US as its greatest defender while constantly undermining self-determination in other countries to ensure that your agenda is being met. If we really and truly love democracy, we would respect the fact that it means people we don’t always agree with get to call some of the shots. If America isn’t going to fully support the growth of democracy even when it’s not convenient, then we need to stop pretending like it actually means anything to us.
III. The US Doesn’t Give A **** About The Syrian People
Let’s be perfectly clear on this.
Syria is the last major enemy of Israel, as well as one of Iran’s few allies. I assure you, the proposed US plan of hitting Syrian military installations has nothing to do with protecting innocent Syrians and everything to do with advancing US political ends. If the US actually cared about ending the conflict, government sites could be hit; the handful of families who own and run everything in Syria would consider withdrawing support from the regime and the structure would come crumbling down. If the US actually cared about the massive degree of human suffering we’re currently seeing, action (of any kind) would have happened months ago- the situation didn’t go from tolerable to genocidal overnight.
IV. Oh The Humanitarian Aid!
For all the hand-wringing over how the world should respond to the situation in Syria, I’m pretty surprised that action on the most basic level hasn’t been taken to offer aid to both refugees and those still trapped inside the conflict. Disease is an ever increasing problem in the refugee camps, stemming largely from a lack of medicine. Again in spite of stereotypes, the Middle East isn’t just rolling sand dunes. It gets cold there, and flimsy tents aren’t exactly the best homes for lasting out the winter.
So why hasn’t palpable action been taken yet?
Here’s a chance to improve the US’s reputation, offer plenty of jobs to Americans, and obviously help people in desperate need of it. Yet humanitarian aid is pretty dang paltry. Again, if the world is so concerned over the crisis, why haven’t the floodgates been opened in terms of food, shelters, medicine, water purifiers, teachers, doctors, and workers?
Again, I’m getting the odd sensation that it’s a lot easier to mourn Syrian children than it is to try to save them.
V. “**** ‘Em” Is Not A Legitimate Response
Of course, the flip side to crocodile tear despair is blatant disregard. There’s a whole crowd of people who seem to be of the opinion that nothing can be done, or barring that, because there’s no easy, cheap, or clean solution, nothing should be done. I hear plenty of people claim to not want to be involved in yet another war, and I get that- I really do. But throwing the Syrians to the lions [intentional Arabic pun] is not an option, people. The idea that Middle Easterners are just “doomed” to perpetual warfare isn’t just callous or ignorant- it’s malevolently racist.
Something needed to be done yesterday already. This cowardly waffling over the conflict because of a lack of easy answers or a way to benefit has lead only to massacre upon massacre. You think the situation is going to get any cleaner or clearer?
This is what it all boils down to. Nobody wants to take any action in Syria because there’s no clear or immediate benefit for them. The world views the Syrian people with about as much humanity as the regime does. All the human life lost and in danger is meaningless to you unless you can get something out of it. I’m not claiming to have any of the answers, but I know this- the world, as self-righteous and pious as it pretends it is, is has just as much blood on its hands as Assad does.