Syria is an Arab country governed by the ruling Ba’ath party as a republic since the 1960s. Its sectarian cleavages result largely from the dismemberment of what could have been “Greater Syria” following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the creation of a fragmented new state by European “mandates”. This same process also gave birth to a nationalist, social reformist, and anti-imperialist sentiment crystallized in the Ba’ath party, which was formed by Sunni, Christian, and Alawite intellectuals in the 1940s and came to power in 1963.
In 2011, shortly after the outbreak of anti-regime protests in the context of the region-wide “Arab Spring”, the US, UK, and France insisted that “Assad must go.” The next year found Syria mired in what soon became an internationalized civil conflict, one that enabled the violent extremist ISIS to take over parts of the country.
Although President Obama in 2013 resisted calls from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others to bomb Syria, the US did covertly support the armed rebels and allowed Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar to provide military and logistical support to the rebels. In 2013 Pope Francis and Russian president Vladimir Putin, among others, called for peaceful dialogue, but to no avail.
The result has been a vicious conflict that has taken many lives (more than 450,000 have been killed), destroyed cultural heritage, enabled ISIS to grow and target Syrian Christians and others, displaced the population and produced a massive refugee wave (4.8 million have fled the country and 6.6 million are internally displaced), generated anxiety in Europe as a result of the refugee settlement and security concerns, exacerbated intra-regional tensions, and set back decades of Syria’s social and economic development.
Toward Peace in the Region
We call on the U.S. government to work with Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the UN to bring about the successful conclusion of peace talks in order to end the Syrian tragedy. The US should stop supporting Syrian armed groups, withdraw its troops and covert forces, and stop bombing. We urge the Trump administration to support the latest peace talks and to compel its allies in the Gulf, notably Saudi Arabia, to end the funding of rebels in Syria. If this means withholding the further sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, this is a small price to pay to help stop the spread of violence and terrorism and demonstrate true moral leadership.
Indeed, the government should take the lead in the Security Council to pass a resolution calling for a halt to all armed interventions and hostilities in the Middle East region. Citizen groups should pressure the government to prevent any sale of arms to states or non-state actors bent on fomenting chaos in the region. Finally, because of its role in encouraging and supporting sedition and armed rebellion, it behooves the US to create a “reconstruction and democratic development fund” for Syria.
Learn About the 2017 Middle East Work Plan
We need diplomacy not sanctions for peace in Syria – The Hill, January 22 2019, Jeffrey Sachs
Syria Timeline: Since the Uprising Against Assad – United States Institute of Peace, July 2 2019, Mona Yacoubian