By SPC Steering Committee
Those of us inspired by the cry for democracy and human rights that has reverberated from Tunisia to Egypt to Syria are saddened and horrified to see that same movement being attacked wholesale by the Syrian state. At the Syracuse Peace Council, we are also disturbed by the international community’s response to the conflict, including the response of our own government.
The Syrian resistance is struggling under very difficult circumstances to find a successful strategy for overthrowing the Bashar al-Assad regime. In response to horrific state violence and attacks on civilians, what started out as a peaceful protest movement has become much more complicated. While many activists in Syria continue their nonviolent protest, others have armed themselves and are carrying out both defensive and offensive operations against the Syrian military and government.
The Assad regime’s attacks on Syrian cities have been brutal, and the counter attacks by the armed resistance are escalating. The humanitarian crisis in Syria is growing. As many as 26,000 people have been killed, and the United Nations estimates that more than 235,000 have become refugees.
We support the right of the Syrian people to decide how best to defend themselves from state violence, and we understand that different factions have made different choices. We cannot, however, support the powerful governments of the world, including our own, getting involved in the armed conflict in Syria. Instead of truly attempting to bring the international community into agreement on a peaceful and diplomatic approach to helping the Syrian population during this conflict, the United States is covertly, and not so covertly, supporting factions of the armed resistance.
Despite its stated positions, the US government’s interests in Syria are not primarily humanitarian. (If they were, why would the US government continue to support the government of Bahrain which has also brutally suppressed demands for democracy?) The Assad government has a friendly relationship with Iran, and the US government may see regime change in Syria as a way to undermine Iran’s power in the region. Meanwhile, the Russian government is arming and supporting the Assad regime to protect its own influence in the Middle East, where the Syrian government is currently an ally. The United States should not use the Syrian people as pawns in a geo-political chess game with Iran and Russia.
While some armed factions of the Syrian resistance are seeking US military involvement, other Syrian resistance groups are asking the international community to put aside their short-term geo-political interests in the region and support a nonviolent diplomatic approach to ending the conflict. On July 26, ten groups from the Syrian democratic opposition signed an appeal to the Syrian people and the international community, in which they called for a political, instead of military solution.
“The military solution is holding the Syrian people hostage and does not offer a political solution capable of responding to the people’s deepest aspirations,” reads the appeal. “Violence leads people to think that there is no alternative to the use of weapons. But the victims, the martyrs, the injured, the detained, the disappeared, the mass of refugees inside and outside the country, call on us to take the responsibility to stop the spiral of violence.”
The belief that the US can use military clout to support human rights and democracy must be discarded. It failed in Afghanistan. It failed in Iraq. It failed in Libya. And it would fail, once again, in Syria. In all previous cases, US military power was able to depose, or help others depose, repressive leaders, but the human costs were enormous and the political transition from war to democracy has proved largely illusory.
It is likely that any type of US military involvement, from arming factions of the resistance to full-scale intervention, will make matters worse instead of better for the Syrian people. It provides political cover for Russia’s involvement. It escalates instead of quells the violence in Syria. Civil war is polarizing the population and hampering the efforts of those who are still pursuing nonviolent resistance and seeking a broadly popular diplomatic end to the conflict.
If we truly want to support the Syrian people in this terrible time, we should send humanitarian aid through the United Nations and other international organizations. Instead of sending weapons and money for arms, we should send food and medical supplies for the refugees and the hungry civilians trying to survive in war-torn cities. And we must work to keep international geo-political actors from escalating the violent side of this conflict, starting with our own government.