The current Syrian disaster began with peaceful protests. The Assad government responded with brutal and lethal violence against the nonviolent protestors espousing legitimate grievances. As the Assad government’s use of overwhelming force intensified, some protestors eventually turned to violence. The situation continued to escalate, and other nations began to intervene for their own interests.
Leaders in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, followers of the Sunni form of Islam, seemed to fear greatly the rising influence of the Shiite branch of Islam that is in control in Iran and newly in control in Iraq. Shiites also have strong influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, a strong Shiite group that drove Israel out of Lebanon. In addition, President Assad in Syria is an Alawite, an offshoot of the Shiite form of Islam.
If the Assad government could be overthrown, Iran would lose a key Arab ally and the Shiites would suffer a setback. In addition, Iran would be further isolated, and that would benefit the U.S. and Israel in their campaigns against Iran. The U.S. involvement, along with that of Britain and France, drew Russia into the issue as well. Russia was outraged when the U.S., Britain and France led the overthrow of the Libyan government in violation of the UN Charter. Russia strongly opposes the overthrow of another Arab nation, particularly its ally Syria.
So the situation in Syria was transformed from internal protests about corruption and other grievances into a horrific killing field waged by proxies on behalf of countries that don’t give a damn about the Syrian people or the Syrian nation.
The Syrian people have suffered incredibly during the last two years, and the future looks bleak as more weapons are pouring into the country. It is likely that neither Assad nor his opposition can win. This situation calls into question whether or not Syria can survive as a state, or will it be broken up into badly shattered pieces.
As bad as this prospect is, much of the Middle East is now teetering on the edge of an abyss. Arabs throughout much of the region are greatly worried about the Syrian conflagration spreading into other countries, pitting Sunnis against Shiites. Iraq has already and continues to experience the horrific effects of such a civil war.
More weapons are clearly not the answer. Only real negotiations can end the suffering.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” column appears in the Colorado Daily every Friday.