I was reading a newspaper recently, because that’s what all the cool kids are doing, and I came across an article regarding Syria. I skimmed it. Then, it dawned on me that I’m not entirely clear on what exactly is going on in Syria, and I consider myself someone who pays attention to the news. If I’m confused, who isn’t? So I educated myself. And now I’m educating you.
What’s a Syria?
Syria is a country in the Middle East, home to 22 million people. Formerly ruled by the Ottomans and the French, Syria became a free country in 1943. It has borders with Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The neighborhood is not known for its peace and stability. Syria has been under the authoritarian rule of the Al-Assad family since the 1970s, with Bashar taking over when his father Hafez died in 2000. The Al-Assads are members of the Ba’ath Political Party, but not the same sect that Saddam Hussein was part of.
Why is it newsworthy?
After successful protests in Tunisia in early 2011, the Syrian people joined the Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, Bahrainis and others, and demanded democracy for themselves. The movement has become known as the Arab Spring. Egypt overthrew their government without much bloodshed, but it’s been a different story elsewhere. The Al-Assad regime reacted to these protests with the force of the army, much like Moammar Gaddafi did in Libya. The UN helped rebels oust Gaddafi last year, but have not done the same for Syria. The death toll is somewhere around 10,000, and many of those deaths have been unarmed civilians.
If the situation is like the one in Libya, why isn’t the US doing anything?
Good question. You aren’t the only one asking it; so are the Syrians.
The answer is a bit more complicated than the question. Publicly, the Obama administration says that they want to avoid “further militarization of the situation.” Privately, there might be something else at play. While most of Syria’s population is Sunni Muslim, the Al-Assad regime is Shia (the opposite was true in Saddam’s Iraq), putting them on good terms with Iran. Iran, you may have heard, is not a country the US wants to anger.
What about the UN?
As I write this, the UN has put in place a cease-fire. For the most part, violence has stalled. That may change before this gets published. However, the UN has not gone through with heavier sanctions or intervention, the way they did with Libya, because Syria is allies with Russia. Russia sells arms to Syria, and, as part of the UN Security Council, has the power to veto any sort of intervention, peaceful or otherwise.
How can I use this to further my political causes?
First off, you’re the worst. To answer your question, though, Republicans like to point out Obama’s silence regarding Syria as an example of him refusing to stand up to Iran. Democrats note that Republicans complained the last time Obama got us involved with UN action in the Middle East.
No, I meant Russian politics.
Oh, right. Duh. The government’s stance on this issue has been their way of saying to the Russian people “hey, we still don’t like the West!” This was an election year in Russia, too.
Didn’t the Cold War end 20 years ago?
Yes. But don’t tell that to Putin.