Alternative Insight

Simplified Proposals to Resolve the World Conflagrations
Part Ii - Syria

The American Revolution has characteristics that guide understanding of the Syrian insurrection. In both situations, ardent and semi-popular groups rebelled against injustices and hoped to create new regimes. In both situations, foreign powers, France and Spain in the American Revolution, and Russia, Iran, United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other nations in the Syrian revolution, stoked the violence, commanded the direction, and shaped the rebellions. Portrayed as revolutions, the American and Syrian rebellions are more accurately described as battlegrounds for conflicting geo-politics.

By working together to defeat their British enemy, and coordinating the supply of weapons and logistics to the colonists, France and Spain enabled the American Revolution to succeed. To obtain assistance, the foreign powers obliged the colonists to obtain sovereignty, declare themselves an independent nation, and provide a unified command so the two European nations could deal directly with an established government. Insistence by the two foreign powers that arms could only be supplied to a sovereign government provoked the issuance of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

In Syria, foreign supporters of the insurgencies are not working together and not able to supply weapons and logistic support to a unified command. The most successful of the insurgents, the al-Nusra Front, claims to have shed its al-Qaeda allegiance. However, the al-Nusra front is more interested in spreading its Islamic ideology than uniting the Syrian people; if able, it would carve a niche anywhere. For these reasons, the insurgency cannot succeed. Each day of armed struggle only means the killings of more Syrians. Another, we had to kill them to save them.

Before the insurrection, Syria was a relatively stable nation, with free health care and almost universal education, with capability to supply adequate food, clothing, and housing to its population. Syrians did not breathe airs of freedom, but they inhaled the airs of Syria, the oxygen of thousands of years of remembered heritage, loosely bound together by history, culture, and civilization.

In 1936, Syrian nationalists gained a Franco-Syrian Treaty that provided for Syrian independence. After 1970, the Baathist government forged a Syrian identity and guaranteed religious and ethnic freedom to all its citizens. All of that is slowly fading. Even if there is a new Syrian government, will there be a Syrian people, and a Syrian nation? The map shows Syria's real problems.

The post World War I French mandate essentially considered Syria composed of two states -- Damascus and Aleppo. The western part became Lebanon and Latakia; the latter mostly aligned with Damascus.The northern part contained the Kurdish region along the border with Turkey.

Kurds want either independence or autonomy, while seeking protection from Turkey, which is a contradiction; either of the former challenges will not allow the latter. The Kurdish region is bound to Syria. Aleppo may be able to form an independent government but will not be able to protect the Kurds. Nor have the major population centers of the Aleppo region indicated they want to secede; they want to have more voice in the government; they strive for freedom.

Other pockets of protest, Dara'a in the south, northern tip of Latakia, and eastern rural areas, might always exist; some demanding more freedom; some operating as extremist sectarian movements. After the more belligerent Sunni elements -- ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Nusra Front -- have been destroyed, and the radical groups, such as the Muslim brotherhood, have been pacified, the Syrian government will have to ascertain means to balance the unification of an ethnically diverse country and the allowance of more political freedom.

Inability of intelligence agencies to gather the facts, and for competing nations to face the facts, have brought the Syrian war to its punishing situation. No rebel force with unique sovereign authority, with an established governing body, or with universal approval exists. Even if there was a viable option, a new government cannot resolve Syria's present condition. The catastrophes are more than man-made, and urgency in reconstruction of Syrian life and institutions are beyond the capability of any newly formed government. In addition to the religious divisions and the demands for political freedom, Syria suffers from an urban/rural divide, ethnic antagonisms, and natural calamities, which have exaggerated the conflict and need immediate attention. Not factored into the Syrian catastrophe are these major problems faced by the Assad regime, which require severe control, and, for that reason, did not permit the government to accept other challenges to its operations. From the onset of the civil demonstrations, which began in March 2011 in the city of Dara'a, near the Jordanian border, agricultural unemployment, crowding of urban areas, dislocations, and possible food shortages occupied the time and energy of the Syrian government.

Natural Calamities
It may be debatable, but a body of social scientists and international political observers concluded that severe drought, during the early part of the 21st century forced 1.5 million Syrian farmers to migrate to urban areas and added to social stresses that eventually resulted in the uprising during March 2011.

An article titled The Ominous Story of Syria's Climate Refugees, Scientific American, December 17, 2015, starts with the following:

Drought, which is being exacerbated by climate change and bad government policies, has forced more than a million Syrian farmers to move to overcrowded cities. Water shortages, ruined land and corruption, they say, fomented revolution.

John Wendle, the article's author, talked with Mustafa Abdul Hamid, a 30-year-old farmer from Azaz, near Aleppo.

"The war and the drought, they are the same thing," says Mustafa Abdul Hamid, a 30-year-old farmer from Azaz, near Aleppo. "The start of the revolution was water and land," Hamid says.
Life was good before the drought, Hamid recalls. Back home in Syria, he and his family farmed three hectares of topsoil so rich it was the color of henna. They grew wheat, fava beans, tomatoes, and potatoes. Hamid says he used to harvest three quarters of a metric ton of wheat per hectare in the years before the drought. Then the rains failed, and his yields plunged to barely half that amount. "All I needed was water," he says. "And I didn't have water. So things got very bad. The government wouldn't allow us to drill for water. You'd go to prison."

The Scientific American article concluded:

Syria's water crisis is largely of its own making. Back in the 1970s, the military regime led by President Hafez al-Assad launched an ill-conceived drive for agricultural self-sufficiency. No one seemed to consider whether Syria had sufficient groundwater and rainfall to raise those crops. Farmers made up for water shortages by drilling wells to tap the country's underground water reserves. When water tables retreated, people dug deeper. In 2005 the regime of Assad's son and successor, President Bashar al-Assad, made it illegal to dig new wells without a license issued personally, for a fee, by an official, but it was mostly ignored, out of necessity.

Sectarian Divisions
The Assad regime, similar to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, managed, by brute force, to check the sectarian divisions until foreign support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar enabled ISIS and Al-Nusra Front fighters to stir their revolutions. An irony of the lack of attention of western Christian society to the events that crippled Syrians is that Syria is one of the last secure nations for Christian life in the Middle East and houses the most significant artifacts of early Christianity. Instead of realizing that the Baathist government protected their religious compatriots and their heritage, the western Christian society has permitted the decimation of Christianity in Syria. Will Syria follow Iraq? Reflect on Iraq and note that the U.S. invasion opened a Pandora box of religious strife. According to Canon Andrew White, known as 'the Vicar of Baghdad,' "Christianity is all but over in the land where it all began. Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. "
The figures have been disputed, but nobody disputes that the intense sufferings of the Christian minority in the last decade, and the vicious Sunni/Shi'a attacks upon each other followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Rural and Urban Conflict
Economic, social, health, and intellectual disparities between urban and rural life have plagued most nations and played a leading role in civil disturbances. China's 1960s Cultural Revolution and Cambodia's Pol Pot emptying of the cities during the late 1970s were futile and disastrous attempts by totalitarian governments to resolve the urban/rural divide. China still struggles with the problem and is slowly moving rural dwellers to huge apartment complexes in mega-cities. Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadaffi ameliorated the problem, but the disparities have continually surfaced and disturbed the Assad regime

Ethnic and Tribal Differences
Forged from European secret agreements, which created artificial nations without regard to ethnic differences, the Middle East nations struggle to give a unique identity to disparate faces. Saddam Hussein tried to reduce Kurdish nationalism and turn Kurds into pure Iraqis by populating Kurdish urban areas with Arab Iraqis. Moammar Gaddafi pacified the Libyan tribes but could not reduce antagonisms between the eastern and western provinces -- Tripolitania and Cyrenacia. Syria is a bundle of tribal conflicts, and the government has waltzed through them by applying a strong and authoritarian rule.

In summary, the lack of understanding of Syria's many problems has contributed to the lack of understanding of the nature of the rebellion. Are people rebelling because Syria is too authoritarian, or is Syria too authoritarian because that is what is needed to resolve problems and prevent rebellion? Will any new and effective government be less authoritarian?

The one-sided look at the Syrian government is compounded by the one-sided reporting of events.
Police arrested and beat several high school students for painting anti-government graffiti on a wall, which triggered a march for political rights and an end to corruption. Syrian police reportedly countered with water cannons,and gunfire, and killed three protesters. According to the Syrian government news agency, "infiltrators among the marchers smashed cars, destroyed other property and attacked police, causing chaos and riots." And so, it goes - rebel forces accuse and the government excuses. Who should be trusted in the era of 'false news?' One problem is that conventional media reports are always slanted against Assad. Other reports often tell a different story.

Jonathan Marshall,, July 20, 2015 provides an alternative interpretation at

... in an uncharacteristic gesture intended to ease tensions the government offered to release the detained students, but seven police officers were killed, and the Baath Party Headquarters and courthouse were torched, in renewed violence. Around the beginning of April, according to another account, gunmen set a sophisticated ambush, killing perhaps two dozen government troops headed for Dara'a.
President Assad tried to calm the situation by sending senior government officials with family roots in the city to emphasize his personal commitment to prosecute those responsible for shooting protesters. He fired the provincial governor and a general in the political security force for their role. The government also released the children whose arrest had triggered the protests in the first place.
Assad also announced several national reforms. As summarized by the UN's independent commission of inquiry on Syria, "These steps included the formation of a new Government, the lifting of the state of emergency, the abolition of the Supreme State Security Court, the granting of general amnesties and new regulations on the right of citizens to participate in peaceful demonstrations."
His response failed to satisfy protesters who took to the streets and declared the city a "liberated zone." As political scientist Charles Tripp has observed, "This was too great a challenge to the authorities, and at the end of April, a military operation was put in motion with the aim of reasserting government control, whatever the cost in human life."

Capturing the top-secret documents that tie the Syrian regime to mass torture and killings. by Ben Taub

Big headline, and long, rambling article that promises much, actually has no meat, proves nothing, exposes nothing, and provides unverified testimony of atrocities from only one person. Read it.

Described by the United States as an insurrection against the Assad regime in an attempt to achieve freedom and democracy, the conflict in Syria has emerged with a different context. A group of Syrians who want more democratic action and freedom exists, but they have not demonstrated great strength and have been superseded by better organized groups -- ISIS and Al-Nusra -- that eschew democracy and freedom. The results of the battle for Raqqa, where different rebel forces -- Free Syrian Army and Islamic brigades -- engaged and defeated the Syrian army, validate this statement. Who emerged as the sole victor and in complete control of the city -- ISIS. Raqqa's population, swollen in size by hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by the battles, did not support any of the sides. Mostly Sunnis, they remained neutral or gravitated toward ISIS, uncaring about expressions of liberty, democracy and freedom. Their complacency to having a unified Syria, their lack of national spirit, their compliance with having Sunni extremists obtain control and return the region to economic and social backwardness, and their antipathy to western values are the principal reasons that a greater portion of the Syrian population, and not only entrenched Baathists, fight to preserve the present government.

Attacking the Assad regime and reinforcing the rebellion has encouraged the inevitable - the destruction of Syria. A great portion of its population is in exile; other than Damascus its major cities are in shambles; its ancient heritage sites are ruins; its infrastructure is wrecked. The shared history, pride in continuity from the start of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, and ability to enable diverse ethnicities and religions to work together, which characterized Syrians, have been smothered. By addressing the causes of the problems of Middle East nations as slogans -- their lack of democracy and freedom -- the United States has assured there will not be democracy and freedom. By destroying Syrian sovereignty, the United States has elevated ISIS' claims to sovereignty.

Revelations of alleged gas attacks against populations, shelling and bombing of civilians in rebel-controlled areas, mass incarcerations, and atrocities against prisoners are the principal grievances of international opinion against the Assad regime. These charges may be true, and cannot be excused, but they have a stimulus; they arise partially out of revenge for mass kidnappings by rebel forces of Assad supporters who are ordinary civilians, executions of captured Syrian soldiers in rebel held territories, and alleged gas and shelling attacks against civilians in government held areas. They are part of many "out of control" internecine wars. Examine the U.S. Civil War, the 1920 Russian Civil War, the 1937 Spanish Civil War, 15 years of the Vietnam Civil War. Since Cain slew Abel, fraternal animosity has been woven into humanity's fabric.

For the United States and the western world, removal of extremist forces that have enveloped the globe in international terrorism has become more significant than pursuit of democracy and human rights for the nations in the Middle East. Destruction of al-Qaeda and ISIS are the highest priority. In Baathist Syria, no terrorist exist; in Iraq and Libya, they flourish. Assuredly, they will flourish in a Syria that replaces the Baathist regime. Who wants that?

The principal value of the present Syrian government is best described by a positive characteristic; the Baathists provide a functioning government, able to plan, govern, and respond to emergencies. This is what Syria needs at this moment. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, "Syria's Baathist government is the worst for the Syrian people, except for the rest.

From post-war histories of Iraq and Libya, a new government will open the door to terrorist training camps, not resolve the armed struggles, and not be able to unify Syria. The only way to stop the war and stop the atrocities is to have a victor that represents the greater portion of the Syrian population, which, unfortunately to western capitals, is the Assad regime. Assuredly, political freedom is not high on the agenda of a government that still struggles to find a recognized identity by all its citizens. Instead of sanctioning and bullying the Syrian government, enable the Syrian government to feed, clothe, and succor its people, and they will stop fighting and move closer to allowing democratic action. What harm if the government survives, if, in the end, it ends the wars, decisively defeats ISIS, and saves lives?

In these complex situations, where citizens lack a close attachment to government, to one another, and to the encumbrances of a nation state, a stable, prosperous and sharing economy precedes democratic action; not always but preferably. Is there any other proven and more acceptable choice?

alternative insight
June 1, 2017