Valdosta Daily Times

September 8, 2013

VSU professor takes look at Syria

Kristin Finney
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — “In January of 2011, the Arab Spring broke out, starting in Tunisia, with many demonstrations against a lot of governments that were in power. It spread to Syria by the late spring. It’s interesting that Twitter had a lot to do with spreading the message. That’s where a lot of the discussion of social media has come up lately — how demonstrations happened in one country, a government would be toppled and then it spread to another country.

The sad thing about Syria is that it turned out to be a civil war. You could say that only in two other countries has there really been a civil war. There was one in Libya in 2011 that pushed Gaddaffi out and then there’s been an ongoing one in Egypt. Syria has been the most tragic situation for sure because that civil war has gone on for two full years now.

For example, in May of 2012 I was teaching a course in American Foreign Policy and we were talking about the fact that there had been 17,000 deaths in the Syria civil war. Now, 16 months later, it’s at 100,000, or more than that probably if you count the 1,400 deaths from the nerve gas on August 21.

It’s a very complicated civil war because on the one hand, you have the leader, Assad, who’s been in power since 2000. In Libya, there was a unified opposition to Gaddaffi, but in Syria there is a complicated opposition that includes some people who want more democracy and some people who simply want to throw out the dictator. There are elements of Al Qaeda in it. There are people from the Kurdish minority. It’s not a united opposition. That’s what makes it so difficult for any outside country to help out because they don’t know exactly what they would be doing in terms of helping out.

For the most part, we’ve stayed out, but in the middle of the summer, Secretary of State John Kerry said we would consider moving from non-lethal aid, which means medicine and food, to lethal aid to the opposition. Of course he had to say we have ways of proving that it will not fall into hands of Al Qaeda, because they are in the opposition. We have not yet provided lethal aid, so we haven’t followed through with that but we’ve said we might, so that’s kind of a build up to the current crisis.

There’s also an ethnic issue here that’s very serious. Assad, the leader, comes from a group called the Alawites, which are an offshoot of the Shiites, and they are a minority in the country. The majority of the citizens are Sunnis. So they now have the issue of why they are  wanting to depose the leader that’s in the minority. It’s even tougher than that because Iran is a Shiite nation, and they are in the background seen as helping the leader to stay there.

Another complicated factor here is that Russia and China don’t see this the same way as we do. They don’t think we have the right to change the composition of the government within Syria. They think that it’s a matter of their national autonomy, even though 100,000 people have died. So when the question comes to the security council about should we do something that would call for his disposal, then the Russians and Chinese could veto it.

The evidence America has that Kerry cites from our intelligence sources is that the regime ordered the use of chemical warfare, using Sarin gas, against the opposition which was located in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital city of Syria, on August 21. More than 1,400 people died and many more were injured because of it.

The U.N. inspecting team was in there last week and pulled out on Friday so what’s going on now is that the blood samples and tissue samples that they collected are being looked at. The report hasn’t come out yet as to what they think was the cause of death. So there are two sets of evidence. There are no reports out yet and it is very important what the U.N. says about those reports.

Already, the Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he doesn’t believe that the American intelligence reports are accurate. So he distrusts what John Kerry has been citing. This was all leading to the decision by Obama last week to have a military strike against Syria.”

Obama said a year ahead of time, in 2012, that If Assad used chemical weapons, it would cross a red line and we would do something about it. So now the President has to follow through after chemical weapons were perhaps used according to our evidence.

Allies were kind of involved as well. The British were going to be standing side by side with us until last week when the House of Commons voted no by 13 votes. David Cameron is not able to follow through with any assistance. The Germans won’t follow through with any assistance either, partly because they have elections coming up shortly. Both the Chancellor and opposition Chancellor candidate don’t want to make a definite commitment of any sort at this time. The only other country that is really standing with us is France. They have said they would be willing to be involved in a limited strike.

Obama made the surprise statement last Friday night that he would consult with Congress on it. Most people thought that he would strike when the evidence was firm or conclusive and that perhaps he was waiting on the U.N. team’s report. So this added another ingredient to it. This week, there have been intensive meetings of the House and Senate key committees with John Kerry and also Chuck Hagel, the Defense Secretary. The key administration officials are trying to sell the idea of a strike to Congress. And Congress is offering different types of resolution. They would like it to be more specific than Obama’s resolution. Both the House and the Senate will vote independently on resolutions next week. If they pass the same resolution, then Obama has got that. However, if they pass different resolutions, they have to reconcile. So there is Congressional deliberation going on right now."


Comments on how Dr. Peterson believes a military strike will affect neighboring countries:


“If we do a military strike, there are neighborhood issues for sure. One question is whether the Assad regime would feel they ought to strike back in some way and what damage they could do. One fear is they might hit Israel. That then leads to the question of what Israel might do. Would they see the American action as complete or enough? Or would they see it as an invitation and want to do more?

Another question is what will be Iran’s reaction since they support Assad. Perhaps they condemn an American or French strike. What would they do to provide assistance to Assad?  

It also destabilizes countries like Jordan and Turkey because so many refugees from Syria have fled to those countries. They now have a huge responsibility to take care of those people. So the refugee factor is in there as well. What happens to those people?

It’s going to affect a lot of countries. I think it could affect Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, the U.S. and Iran at least."