In the early months of 2011, the middle eastern nation of Syria experienced anti-government protests as a result of the growing Arab Spring movement. But back then, almost no one expected that those protests would morph into a more than two year long, extremely bloody civil war resulting in tens of thousands of deaths nationwide. While this gloomy scenario was unexpected, it has transformed into an unfortunate reality for not just Syria, but also the entire world.
How did this remarkable transition from clustered protests to widespread civil war occur? One explanation lies in the fact that while leaders of many other nations affected by the Arab Spring were hesitant to respond with excessive violence, Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad quickly resorted to violent means to quell protests. Not willing to allow a totalitarian crackdown against descent, rebels responded with violence as well. As both sides stepped up their tactics, the conflict quickly devolved into an all-out war that has included the targeting of civilians.
Unfortunately, the conflict does not appear to be approaching any satisfactory conclusion. Recent attempts at peace negotiations have been met with extreme skepticism from all parties, as Syria seems to be too entrenched in conflict to find an easy resolution. Worse, recent evidence shows that chemical weapons may have been used in the conflict. The use of chemical weapons demonstrates that the war is escalating, exacerbating the conflict in the face of international hopes to stop the fighting.
But even though the majority of the international community has attempted to curb the fighting, these attempts have been extremely limited in their effectiveness. A major factor for this limited success has been the overwhelming influence of Russia, a nation that not only has veto power on the United Nations Security Council but also has been supplying arms to Assad. The United States government has deliberated on whether or not the U.S. should intervene more directly than Russia has allowed the U.N. to do, but so far, the rebels are only receiving limited support from western governments.
Russia is not the only reason the U.S. is hesitant to offer more assistance to the rebels, however. Al-Qaeda influence has spread into many rebel groups, forcing the United States to question whether they are willing to help defeat Assad if doing so might hand the country over to terrorists. Basically, the U.S. has found its foreign policy stuck between a rock and a hard place, and while it may be uncomfortable with the status quo of civil war, it doesn’t want to commit itself to either the rebels or Assad.
The idea of a status quo works well for Syria right now, as little action seems to be occurring that could transition the country towards peace. However, we must remember that the status quo so many nations seem comfortable with has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. While an easy path to stability and peace in Syria seems unlikely, that doesn’t mean the international community should give up on Syria.