Sep 3rd 2013

It's About the Syrian People

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

I am not Syrian, but neither am I a mere bystander to the tragedy that has befallen that tortured country. Almost daily I deal with the complex reactions of diverse segments of the Syrian American community—their pain and anguish, their fear or anger. For me, therefore, the story of Syria is about its people and finding a way to bring them together to rebuild their common sense of community and purpose. 

On a number of occasions, I have visited with Syrian Americans discussing, well into the night, this horrific war. Some of the groups with whom I have met want nothing more than to see the regime beaten and removed from power. And rightly so. They come from cities and villages that have been destroyed by the regime's heavy artillery or overrun by its armed forces. In too many instances, they tell personal stories of how members of their immediate families have been killed, wounded, or forced to flee their homes and their livelihood.

I have also met with those who are afraid. They are, themselves, a diverse group. Some hail from Syria's secular business and professional middle class, who weep for the destruction of the life and country they had known and ask, "what has all this destruction accomplished?" Others are members of vulnerable minority communities who fear for the survival of their families and friends at the hands of what they see as intolerant extremists who are wrecking havoc and threatening to impose their will on Syrian society. They are afraid. And rightly so. 

These are the divisions that exist in Syria and they divide the Syrian American community as well. I see it in every community I visit, and I hear it every day.

The backdrop to this sorry state of affairs is, at this point, too well known. On the one hand, there is a brutal and dictatorial regime willing to use all of the elements of power it possesses to maintain its rule. On the other hand, there is an opposition that is dangerously fragmented. They are composed of competing elements: from moderate reformers seeking to create a more open society to ruthless terrorists who have, like the regime they are fighting, committed atrocities, while in between are countless armed groups and gangs unconnected to any authority. 

There is, of course, an additional dimension to this horror that has seen Syria become a proxy war between regional powers who are fueling and arming the conflict.

But strip away all these layers, and there are the Syrian people—the victims of this war. 

From the beginning it was clear that the only resolution to the Syrian conflict was a negotiated solution that would lead to the end of the regime's absolute control over state power giving way to a more open and democratic society.  If this goal was difficult at the outset, it has only become more difficult today. As the death toll has continued to rise, with each new atrocity, and as new and more lethal groups have emerged on the scene, the sides have become hardened in their resolve to fight unto death.

Following the US-Russia agreement earlier this year to convene a Geneva II meeting to bring the combatants to the table to talk, there appeared to be hope that we were on the verge of finding a way forward. That moment passed. 

In the wake of what now appears to be incontrovertible evidence that chemical weapons were used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, the situation has become further inflamed. The sickening pictures of rows of dead, and the traumatizing scenes of survivors—many of them little children—gasping for breath, have provoked outrage and led to calls for the US to respond. But how and toward what end?

Speaking on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry presented a rhetorically compelling case for "what we know to be true"—that the regime was responsible for this horror and that it's behavior poses a challenge to both conscience and leadership. When the Secretary shifted to "what we must do about it", he gave only hints of a "limited and tailored response" that might be taken to hold the regime accountable for its actions. 

As Kerry closed his remarks, he shifted again to clarity saying "we believe the primary objective is to have a diplomatic process that can resolve this through negotiation, because we know that there is no ultimate military solution. It has to be political. It has to happen at the negotiating table". In saying this Kerry was reflecting the assessment of the US's military command that has argued, despite the howls of war hawks, that "the use of US military force can change the balance, but it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious, and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict".

This is where we are, and this is the measure we must use to judge any actions that might be taken. Does it lead us closer to the only way this conflict can be resolved or does it lead us further away from what the Secretary rightly states must be our "primary objective"? 

At this point, these facts are clear: the regime has lost international legitimacy and the ability to lead a united Syrian people; the opposition is too dangerously fragmented, with too many extremist components, to win the confidence of all Syrians; and the suffering of the Syrian people, of every sect, class, and ethnicity has gone on too long.

It will not be easy to reconstitute the Syrian nation, to reconcile its people, and to heal the many wounds inflicted by this devastating war. But this, not revenge, must be the goal we seek—for the sake of the region, for Syria, and most especially for the Syrian people.


Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."