Syrian civil war worries the world, Obama students


Lainey Newman, The Eagle Staff Writer

Bashar al-Assad, the current president of Syria and arguably the most controversial leader in today’s world news, took office to a hopeful Middle Eastern country in the month of July, in the year of 2000. As the son of the recently deceased former president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar looked promising as a young, and widely believed handsome, commander in chief. The world today looks at the Syrian president as a dictator who has killed his own people in one of the most brutal civil wars of the last century.


After the death of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar was almost automatically appointed leader of Syria. Though the Syrian age of eligibility for becoming president was 40 and Bashar was only 34, the Parliament swiftly amended their law in order to allow the son to take leadership of Syria.

Despite the nation holding an official election upon Hafez al-Assad’s decease, Bashar al-Assad  ran unopposed. He won with a landslide victory, allegedly attaining 97% of the Syrian peoples’ vote. Initially, al-Assad had been in favor of democratic principles and ways of living. The people looked at al-Assad with hope for change, believing that he could transform Syria’s poor economy into a thriving one. At that point, he was still a fresh face with new ideas, a Western education, and the importantly powerful trait of youth.


The people of Syria slowly began to find out that their new leader was more like his furiously controlling father than they had originally hoped he would be. With the combination of political oppression, censorship of media, and a kind of encouragement from many Middle Eastern countries who were too rebelling against their leaders in what was entitled the Arab Spring, Syrian peoples began to protest against the unfair treatment they had been undergoing for the past decade. Beginning in 2011 and fueled by anger at Assad’s broken promise to revitalize their nation, movements against the Assad regime began to take place in various Syrian cities. Bashar al-Assad was soon sending military groups to, as he said, lessen the fighting and calm down the situation. Though composure was the supposed goal Assad oriented his troops towards, perhaps the more accurate word, based on what has happened in Syria since 2011, would be subjugation. According to thousands of media accounts, Assad responded to the peoples’ protests with forthright demonstrations of superior military and political power over the unorganized group of rebels attempting to make their voices heard.


With the advantage of trained troops, governmental protection, and an abundance of weapons, Assad has had a leg up on the rebels since the initiation of protestations. It should be also noted, however, that some rebel groups have fought violence with violence. No longer is either side innocent of war crimes, but the rebels and civilians of Syria have been subjected to much more brutality. Through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the world has become vividly aware of the dangers Syrians have, and continue to, face. An abundance of videos of the crisis have been posted on YouTube, and pictures and death tolls have been amassing by the day on other websites. On a personal note, a young Syrian activist in Pittsburgh and friend of mine found out about the death of an extended family member through not direct contact, but a video posted on a social media network. These type of circumstances provoke political scientists to wonder what extent we would know about the Syrian conflict if not for the Internet. With the harsh media censorship in Syria and little access or output to the rest of the world, would the international community be aware of the political and literal bloodshed happening right now in a country so distant-seeming to our own America? Canada? Brazil?


The Syrian crisis has now lasted for more than 2 and a half years. More than 100,000 people have perished, whether the victims be ferocious rebels or innocent children. Over 2 million people have fled the country with half of that statistic being children. The psychological effects that the civil war is having on our generation in Syria could be detrimental for the future of the Middle Eastern country.


The United States of America, remembering and regretting the decision to interfere in other Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, has until recently remained inactive in Syria. President Barack Obama has addressed the Syrian people and government several times, with threats of interference if the situation escalates, and pledges of verbal, but not actionary, support for the rebels. Obama nonetheless did make one actionary pledge to the Syrian people, during which he stated that if Assad were to use chemical weapons against civilians, the United States would in some way support the fight against the Assad regime. Using chemical warfare not only crosses the line of what is morally right and wrong, Obama declared, but it also goes against actual international law. Approximately a year later, the United Nations revealed evidence they had discovered of chemical weapons use in Syria. Obama then began to formulate plans of transporting arms to rebel forces in Syria. Careful to not place weapons in the wrong hands, our President’s plans took weeks, possibly months, to go through. Only about a month ago did Syrian rebels begin to receive weapons donated by the United States.


Since the dawn of the Syrian civil war, Russia has been a huge ally for the Bashar al-Assad regime. More than once, Russian officials have used their powerful position in the United Nations to protect the Syrian government from Western interference. The U.N. was considering condemning Syrian leaders for waging war against their own citizens, but Russia blockaded the condemnation. Shockingly, about two weeks ago, Russia offered the United States a diplomatic approach to dealing with the Syrian use of what the U.N. confirmed as sarin gas. The U.N. provided ample evidence to the fact that armed forces, believing to have acted on behalf of the Syrian government, used sarin– an internationally illegal substance– on its own citizens. On August 21, 2013, more than 1,300 people died in a chemical weapons attack, many being women and children. This, Obama said through speeches and statements, crossed the line. Before Russia’s diplomatic proposal, Obama was planning a limited military strike on Syria. Russian president Vladimir Putin presented a noteworthy and plausible solution, however, before Obama had made official plans for a military strike. Putin proposed that, in collaboration with the U.N., Russia would be willing to assist in the dismantling of all chemical weapons in Syria. Obama, recognizing that the goal of the United States is not to solve the Syrian conflict but to hold Syria responsible for the use of chemical weapons and thereby breaking international law, was in favor of Russia’s proposal. If Russia were to come through, Obama said, the U.S. would not have to risk the lives of men and women of the U.S. Army, and the United States would fulfill their agreement to interfere if Assad’s troops used chemical weapons against their people. Not only did Russia, an ally of Syria, propose this plan, but they managed to get Syria on board with it as well. Syria has agreed to disclaim all of their chemical weapons to international supervision. Assad realizes that turning over his chemical weapons would be less consequential to his goals than having the United Stated of America, an international superpower, interfere militarily with his regime.


Obama does not hope to resolve the Syrian civil war. This is not his intent, and he does not believe that the United States should be responsible for the internal discord of other countries. He does, however, hold international cooperation of the law to a high standard. He also morally believes that a nation that kills its own people is a country of abomination and malformation.


Yet the people of America are still unsure of how they would like their government to respond to the Syrian conflict. Should we intervene and save thousands of Syrian civilians while risking the lives of Americans in combat and peace with the Middle East? Does the Syrian crisis directly threaten America? Would Syria abid to the agreement of completely ridding themselves of chemical weapons? The people’s opinion, as with many issues in the U.S., matters greatly.


A poll by ABC News and The Washington Post reports that a majority of 79% of Americans support Russia’s proposal of attempting diplomacy and ridding Syria of its chemical weapons. However, only 4% of Americans are greatly confident in that Syria would actually give up all its chemical weapons. 26% are somewhat confident that they would; 34% are not so confident. 34% are also not confident at all, with the remaining 2% being unsure.


How do young people feel about the Obama administration’s stance regarding Syria? Interestingly, similar statistics as those above were reported when high schoolers at the Obama Academy were interviewed. An Obama ninth grade civics class reflected briefly on what is going on in Syria and the Russian proposal of diplomacy. As Damali Grisham says, “I wouldn’t condone [the behavior of Syrian president al-Assad], but I feel kind of indifferent about Russia’s plan of diplomacy… there are good aspects to it but there are bad aspects, as well.” Another student adds that we should take diplomatic action, before interfering militarily. Mentioning the recent report that the Syrian government was moving many warfare materials, Sebastian Conway-Phillips continues to say that Russia’s plan is “flawed, because we wouldn’t even know if Syria actually gives up all of their chemical weapons.” One student, Roman Ramsey, says that the issue in Syria is distracting from issues currently going on at home in America. Cameron Alliger agrees, saying, “[America] shouldn’t do anything. We already went to war with [the Middle East], spending billions of dollars that we didn’t have. Detroit’s bankrupt, and we are going to go fight another country’s battles, and probably kill more people?” Yet another person, Allayasah Bray, says “what is happening in Syria is just terrible, but I really don’t think we should go to war with them. It would just be more money that American people would have to spend… And of course we could be risking Americans in combat.” Toby Junker sums it up by saying, “I think that [the Syrian conflict] is a very risky situation. There’s a potential for many dangerous things to happen, like nuclear weapons coming out, [or] a lot of wars beginning. I think Obama is kind of in a hole, though, because his administration keeps saying that the laws of the United Nations need to be upheld, yet [the people of America] do not want to go into Syria because it could start a war.”


Though it is clear that there is much crisis in Syria, American people have conflicted views on how we should handle the overseas situation. Young people at the Obama Academy agree: what is going on in Syria, the murders of thousands of innocent people, is horrendous. But how does a foreign nation effectively help a civil war’s victims? Is it America’s place to interfere at all? Though there is no apparent answer as of yet, we know one thing for certain: America is a country of ardent values, and President Obama will endeavor to act in the best way possible for the beliefs of not only the United States, but also the people of Syria and the international community.