Syria: On the Who, Why and How of the Middle East’s most pressing conflict

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The Syrian Civil War is one of the most pressing issues in the world right now. It started in 2011 within the context of the larger Arab Spring and has raged on to this day. Over the course of the conflict, there have been many different groups and armies fighting for many different reasons. The official government of Bashar al-Assad (the president of Syria), ISIS, Rojava and the Syrian Opposition have been the main ones. The conflict has taken many lives of soldiers and citizens alike and foreign governments have become involved, either directly or indirectly, and many people aren’t sure where to stand on any of it. It’s not clear who to support, which actions to take, whether or not foreign powers should become involved. Well, there is a solution, a course to take. There are sides to support, reasons for doing so, and answers to the intervention question. And, by following the course laid out herein, we can hopefully arrive at a favorable conclusion, at least generally, on those three questions.

First, there is the who question, probably the most important. We can start to answer it by analyzing each of the main factions: there is Assad’s government, ISIS, Rojava/Kurdistan, and the Syrian Opposition.

Bashar al-Assad is the president of Syria’s “Arab Socialist Ba’athist Party”, a neo-Ba’athist party and the lead party in Syria. Neo-Ba’athism is supposedly a corruption of original Ba’athism, because it (the two “Ba’athist” states to have existed) have forbidden criticism of their ideology by means of authoritarianism and have both ignored what’s essentially the main policy of Ba’athism, which is the unification of the Arab world. Assad’s government, in particular, has built a cult of personality around its leadership, beginning with his father (see Assadism), and has since done all it can to establish itself as dominant, to the point that it’s left behind any original values they might have had. Throughout the history of Assad’s regime, there have been too many cases of suppression and human rights abuse and general totalitarianism to consider it a viable candidate for support. Assad is out of the question.

ISIS is up next, although they shouldn’t even have to be talked about, it’s more than likely you know who they are. ISIS is an acronym for “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, however; this is not their only name. They are pretty unarguably a terrorist organization, marked by a consistent reign of terror over their territories, torture and mass executions. Most everybody agrees they need to go, and on this, we shan’t disagree. Interesting to note here, however, is a link between the inception of ISIS and a history of foreign intervention in and around the region — but that will be gone into later.

This is where we draw the line — the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, as far as we can judge these factions as such. Assad and ISIS are the ‘bad’ ones. Rojava and the Syrian Opposition are the ‘good’ ones. And what makes them ‘good’? First, the fact that both have incorporated democracy in some way into not only their plans for what a post-Assad Syria would look like, but in the here and now, in the territories they control. Rojava is a de-facto autonomous region in northern Syria. It is part of the larger Kurdistan region, which also includes territory in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Kurdistan is operated (and founded on the principles of independence for) by the Kurds, an ethnic group native to that area of the Middle East, but without a state to call their own. They’ve struggled with achieving autonomy for a very long time and against a great number of governments, but it was only with the outbreak of the Rojava Revolution in northern Syria that they finally got any autonomy. Rojava is now under the control of the Kurdish Supreme Committee, a cooperation agreement between the Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish National Council, two left-wing socialist groups. Both groups have equal representation in the Kurdish Supreme Committee, and they’ve worked together to forge a new constitution in autonomous Rojava — a constitution that guarantees women’s rights, religious freedoms, cooperative economy, and ethnic minority rights, all while direct democracy has taken the place of Assad’s authoritarianism. “The Rojava cantons are governed through a combination of district and civil councils. District councils consist of 300 members as well as two elected co-presidents — one man and one woman. District councils decide and carry out administrative and economic duties such as garbage collection, land distribution, and cooperative enterprises. Civil councils exist to promote the social and political rights within the community.” [*]. Most importantly, though, being that it’s Rojava, if Assad wins we can kiss that one bastion of socialism goodbye, out of the very, very few to currently exist. It’s one of probably only two or three modern shining example that we socialists can point to and say “Look! Socialism works!”. And it does! That’s Rojava; with model direct democracy (see ‘Democratic Confederalism’) and new, guaranteed rights, it really is a shining beacon in the struggle for world socialism. No more would it be if Assad’s regime stabilizes, which in itself should paint a pretty clear picture of what a return to the maintenance of Assadism might mean for every rebel group in Syria, ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

The other “good” faction is the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, or National Coalition. “Good” is in quotations because “coalition” is just what they are; in essence, a lot of different groups with different ideas coming together for one reason — to defeat a common enemy, or in this case, several. What this really tells us is that come the defeat of that common enemy, there’s going to be very little common ground between each of the various denominations making up the coalition. And then, of course, comes a lack of stability, where each wants things done their way, where each has different ideas of how to run a government. None of this, of course, precludes them from being on the “good” list, which is why they’re here at all, but it’s something to keep in mind when judging them as such, because there’s a lot of difference between, say, the right-wing constituencies of the National Coalition and the left-wing constituencies. So how does that carry over practically? It means that we who call for general “support” for them need to be careful in how far this support goes and to whom among them it goes to. It will be very difficult to predict just what the outcome would be of a Coalition victory, so for that we have to be cautious; and that’s why, ultimately, we’ll stress greater support for Rojava in a long-term sense, in the hope that at the end of the conflict. Rojava, as a unified government willing to work cooperatively towards the same goal, will provide more stability than a handful of bickering constituencies united solely for the purpose of fighting an enemy.

We’ve arrived, then, at a general answer as to the who and why questions; support for Rojava and critical support for the National Coalition. That leaves the question of what form that support will take, and who will provide it. And to answer that, it might be prudent to look at a history of foreign intervention around that area and the effects it has consistently had; or, more broadly (but still very relevant), a description of general imperialism, why it’s done and what it means. Imperialism is “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force.” In the past, imperialism was very blatant, carried out through military campaigns and the threat of force. Recently, it’s become much more discrete but remains just as real. Now, it is carried out under the guise of “foreign aid”, whereby those being “aided” inevitably fall under the aiding power’s influence, usually by means of setting up a proxy state, or at least ensuring complacency and allegiance from the old government. This became most evident from the 50s onward; some recognizable examples are the Korean War, Vietnam Conflict, Soviet-Afghan War and, most recently, (and most relevantly) the Iraq War. So how does this relate to the Syrian Civil War? Well, we saw what happened when the United States got involved in Iraq. They entered under the guise of eliminating Saddam Hussein which, ordinarily, might be a noble goal, only in the process they killed rebels indiscriminately — as long as they resisted American occupation, they were branded “terrorists”. Further, as was mentioned earlier, it’s been suggested that it may have been US intervention in the first place that brought about or contributed to the inception of ISIS, from agitation or violence in the region on the part of the US.

And so, yes, following this fact, Hussein was brought down, and Al-Qaida and other genuine terrorists were brought down too. But, by the nature of imperialism, it couldn’t have stopped there — and it didn’t. A US-friendly proxy state was set up in Hussein’s place, and the US even remained to secure their new holdings, to eliminate any opposition whatsoever. That is the nature of foreign intervention under the guise of “aid”. It inevitably becomes a power struggle, and those being occupied are caught in the middle of it. That is why we, as a matter of principle, must reject direct foreign intervention. We must learn from the past and keep in mind how these kinds of situations will always be looked upon as an opportunity to secure national interests. A non-intervention policy, then, is essential in the establishment of Syria, at the end of the Civil War, as an autonomous state.

So what then does “support” mean? It is clear, after all, that we called for “support for Rojava” and “critical support for the National Coalition”. What form will that take if not in direct involvement? The answer, as we think is clear, is in economic support. If we can’t get involved directly, and it’s clear we can’t for reasons aforementioned, we must get involved indirectly; “support”, in this case, means arms, vehicles and infrastructural supplies to Rojava and to the National Coalition, and it means disrupting the flow of such to Assad and ISIS. Anything we can do without getting involved ourselves, we must do, to ensure the emergence of one of the ‘good’ factions as victorious over the ‘bad’ without compromising the values the good factions want to implement.

Of course, there are those that will disagree with everything elaborated on here. Some would say that we should support Assad, or that nobody is worth supporting, or that we need to jump straight in there ourselves and that only a US-installed government would bring stability to Syria. But why? Why would anybody argue for any of those in light of what’s written here; what is there to support in the bad factions, those repressive dictatorships, and what is there to reject in the good ones, the democratic and secular? Why should the US or other foreign powers be in a position to determine the future of a people for them, and not the people themselves? What would a US-installed government bring to Syria that a peoples’ government would not, except for insurance of US interests in the region? They need to answer these questions if they want to make those criticisms. There is no other option but to answer logically, and if they fail to do so, as we think anybody very intent on standing by such criticisms will, they should not be taken seriously.

At the end of all this, as was stated at the beginning, we think we’ve formulated a good solution, if perhaps not employable willingly by actual governments, to the Syrian Civil War on the three main questions; who to support, why we should support them, and the role of foreign powers in supporting them. On the ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions, Rojava needs the most support, and fairly uncritically, for their achievements in democracy and unity where nobody else has succeeded, and for their understanding of a common goal to be pushed for a conclusion of the war. The National Coalition deserves our temporary and critical support, to provide an opposition force to Assad and ISIS, but not to be looked upon as a post-war solution or government because of the inherent lack of stability in coming together to fight a common enemy. On the ‘how’ question, it’s vital we establish a non-intervention policy, preferably between all foreign powers interested (and optimally by way which would force Russia to take its hands out, as mentioned), and instead support the ‘good’ factions by way of supplies in the form of arms, vehicles, infrastructural materials and medical aid. In this way, the end of the war can come quicker, and Syria can establish itself as a functioning democratic self-governed state, free from the yoke of foreign powers.

[*] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rojava_conflict#Social_revolution

About the Author

Bazyli Kronstadt
I write some things. I'm most interested in the Middle East, specifically the Kurds and Rojava.

9 Comments on "Syria: On the Who, Why and How of the Middle East’s most pressing conflict"

  1. Why would you assume that Rojova would have a better chance of co-existing with Assad than under Sunni rule? Neither seems very likely, but in the end I think Assad is the better bet since he would be less likely to cooperate with Turkey and Erdogan’s dream of a new Sunni Ottoman empire.

    • Bazyli Kronstadt | November 9, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Reply

      I don’t assume that Rojava will coexist with Assad. I assume that Assad will be destroyed. That would be optimal, in any case. If not by Rojava — and we have yet to see whether or not they’d be willing to come the opportunity for it; perhaps they only want Kurdistan and are content to leave any other groups outside their borders intact — then at least by some of the other “good rebels” listed here. The Free Syrian Army aren’t bad.

      As for cooperation with Turkey: why do you assume Rojava would get on with him better than Assad would? Kurds and Turks don’t like each other very much. In this case, the enemy of their enemy is not their friend.

      • Sorry I wrote that late at night, I meant it the other way around. Why would you assume they can co-exist better with the Sunni’s. If the Sunni’s win then Turkey wins and Rojava loses, that’s how I see it.

        I think the best case for Rojava would be a federal solution where Sunni’s don’t take over completely, Assad or at least the Alawites are a more natural ally than the Sunnis.

        • Bazyli Kronstadt | November 10, 2015 at 10:18 am | Reply

          Your concerns are valid. If Rojava kept its current holdings for the whole rest of the war and the Sunnis won the rest of Syria, Rojava would be sandwiched. Trapped between two populaces that don’t like them very much. Not a good scenario.

          But I think the very best case for Rojava would be, well, Rojava itself taking the rest of Syria. I know, there are doubts about whether they’re capable or even want to; probably most seriously about the second, since the Rojava Revolution started as an independence movement just for, well, Rojava, and the rest of Syria isn’t Rojava, but that would certainly be optimal. If not Rojava itself, they could perhaps inspire or fund a group with similar principles (i.e., those espoused in the Rojava Charter) to operate in the rest of Syria.

          Again, since we’re not sure how likely that is, in terms of currently existing allies, there are some non-Sunni (at least in official capacity) choices besides Assad or the Alamites. Free Syrian Army or a lot of constituencies of the Coalition.

  2. Don’t forget about the Neoliberal and Nationalist KRG in Iraqi Kurdistan, they are also hostile to any socialism and have even attempted to infiltrate Rojava by sending 300 Peshmerga via the KDP-S

    Also the Syrian opposition isn’t exactly Gommunist, there shall need to be a SECOUND revolution like Lenin did against the Tsar and then again against the Bourgeois parliament. Unfortunately there isn’t much info on socialists in Syria online.

    • Bazyli Kronstadt | November 12, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Reply

      That’s true. I only call for “support” for the opposition factions hesitantly since they would eventually come to oppose Rojava. I’d much rather see Rojava either take Syria or, if they’re only interested in Rojava itself, fund a second revolution with similar values to take the rest of Syria.

  3. The “National coalition” is only existent on paper(remember that US congress report about how the FSA was like 2 people), they control almost no land and are supported by the main imperialist.

    Get real man.

    • Bazyli Kronstadt | November 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Reply

      I’d like to see that US congress report about the FSA because all estimates I’ve seen put their numbers at 45,000-60,000.

      The National Coalition holds territory in Syria and, if by “on paper” you mean not a group in and of itself, you’re right… because they’re not. They’re just comprised of lots of smaller groups working towards a common goal. In that sense, they’re very real.

  4. Army is best protection way of a country.

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