The Syrian impasse: navigating hard truths and the road forward

Majid Almustafa/Demotix. All rights reserved.

Last March marked the
fourth anniversary of the Syrian uprising, now civil war, and it is perplexing
that this bloodbath has unfolded without any meaningful attempts by the US to
stop it.

People in the US have
been disillusioned by the Obama administration, saying that it has been doing
everything it can—though it obviously has not. The air campaign against ISIS,
although beneficial to the US, only strengthens the Assad regime and will not
end the conflict. Also, diplomatic efforts have left much to be desired.

Furthermore, the US’s
much lauded humanitarian efforts are overstated and in fact, countries with
much fewer resource capabilities, such as Sweden and Lebanon, are leading the
way. We, here in America, need to own up to these truths so that it inspires us
to take bold new steps towards mitigating the conflict.

Humanitarian efforts
put forth by the US for the Syrians has been woefully inept. Over the last 4
years the US has provided a total of $2 billion, or .01 percent of just one year’s GDP
(2014). Conversely, the U.K.’s commitment is about $911 million, which is a lot
comparatively, considering that the UK’s 2014 GDP is only 14 percent of that of the US.

Moreover, the US has
taken in just 546 refugees from Syria since 2011, or .006 percent of the 9 million
people displaced from the conflict. This equates to .000002 percent of the total US
population. Sweden, which has a population of 9 million, has taken in over
81,000 refugees. Lebanon, which is smaller than the state of New Jersey, has
taken in 1.2 million refugees, which has led to a population increase of
25 percent. Syria’s Arab neighbors and a few European countries have led the
humanitarian effort, not the US; make no mistake about it.

The US’s diplomatic
efforts to quell the violence in Syria have been equally halfhearted and
ineffective. To date, the UN and Arab League sponsored Geneva I and II
conferences have been the only serious attempts at negotiations.

The talks were doomed
to be ineffective because of pressure by the US on the UN to ban certain
parties from attending the talks. Notable was the lack of representation from
Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, Jabhat Al Nusra, and the Islamic Front. All of these
groups are running the show on the ground, so how can there be talks without

The administration may
also point to its efforts of working through the Security Council to reach
either a military or diplomatic solution, but Russia has remained an obstacle
to getting anything meaningful passed. The ability to get UN authorization in
2011 for intervention in Libya shows that if compelled to, the US can overcome
Security Council opposition or trepidation.

The US army has been very
active in the Levant for about nine months now, mainly via its air campaign on
ISIS. Many will use this fact to dispute the claim the US has done nothing for
the Syrians. The problem however, is that this policy is meant to help
Iraq to protect us, the US, from the presumed threat ISIS poses to America. Any
benefits to the Syrians are ancillary.

The conflict in Syria
began in 2011 and ISIS has been around since then, but the US only intervened recently.
It shows that the US was content with ISIS so long as it remained in Syria.
While the US has been stingy with humanitarian aid, it has splurged on its
bombing campaign. In less than a year, it has spent $2.44 billion. The 2015
budget has allocated another $5.6 billion.

Even though the US has
focused its efforts on defeating ISIS, this costly endeavor has yielded little.
Operation Inherent Resolve, primarily a bombing campaign, has just been a means
to buy time until the Arab states can carry out the necessary ground

Back in August 2014
when the campaign began, then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking about
defeating ISIS said: “it isn’t going to just come as a result of
airstrikes…strategically there are limits to how much you can accomplish with
airstrikes.” This has shown to be true as US operations have not been able to
contain, let alone push back, ISIS. The recent capture of the Iraqi city of
Ramadi and Palmyra in Syria exemplify this. Just as in the summer of 2014, ISIS
still holds one third of Iraqi territory and has since increased its presence
in Syria now controlling fifty percent of the country.

The US has failed in
all of its efforts regarding Syria and ISIS, so what’s next?

The US has to be less
hesitant in arming Syrian rebels. Efforts so far have been limited by the State
Department’s stringent criteria of what constitutes a “moderate” group. Losses
on the battlefield will leave Assad with less leverage.

The US will then need
to utilize the goodwill it has accumulated with Iran from the ongoing nuclear
negotiations to pressure Assad. Secretary of State Kerry said in a March 16th interview
“[the] US eventually must negotiate with Assad.” Iran is Assad’s lifeline so
pressure from them may bring the Syrian regime to the table for sincere talks.
This is the direction it must take if it is going to help the Syrians suffering
under the Assad regime and also the way forward to then deal with ISIS.

We must stop
perpetuating the myth that we have been doing all we can for Syria. The sooner
we realize this harsh truth, the sooner we will muster the courage to take bold

Placing pressure on
the regime is possible without the US firing a single shot. This is not a call
for another war. Although flawed US polices have helped exacerbate the
situation, this should not be an excuse to check out completely. Our moral
imperative is to demand an affirmative stance on the Syrian conflict and our
legitimacy ultimately rests upon this. 

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