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

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."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "