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Farmer 1 Why Has the Violence in Syria Continued to Perpetuate?

An essay by Matthew Farmer The waves of revolution in the Middle East that began in the streets of Tunisia, spread to Syria on March 15, 2011, when residents of the small city of Daara were summarily silenced after rising up to protest for their political freedoms. This event marked the beginning of a long and brutal crackdown of the Syrian rebels by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. To date, Assads regime has taken the lives of over 10,000 Syrians, and that number continues to grow every day. So why, if the situation in Syria is so awful, does a conclusion to the violence seem to be nowhere in sight for Syrians? Sadly, the suppression does not appear to be going away anytime soon for the Syrian people; the combination of Assads rule, the internal domestic struggles, and the ambivalence of the international community has left the Syrian rebels to fend for themselves. Beginning with the individual level of analysis, the root of the problem can be easily deduced to the actions of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been at the head of the violent crackdowns that his regime has engaged in. Assad himself is an individual decision maker, who represents the Syrian government on the global stage. Almost immediately, the question of rationality comes to mind when attempting to deconstruct the individual decisions made by Assad. On one hand, Assad could be an irrational madman who acts purely out of self-interest, but it is also possible that Assad is a rational actor who acts based on the parameters that he is given. For the sake of argument, there is not much to

Farmer 2 analyze if Assad is a madman, because we could not possibly begin to fathom the reasoning behind his brutality. Therefore, I will treat Assad as if he were a rational actor. In international relations, one of the major flaws that rational actors can be afflicted by is personal bias. Assad is no stranger to this, because his father, Hafez al-Assad, had been the ruler of Syria for 30 years, from 1970 to 2000. Bashar al-Assad had only one example of ruling from which to learn, and that was the ruthless 30 year rule of his father. During his rule, Hafez al-Assad was constantly engaging in conflict from Israel to Lebanon. Starting in 1979, Hafez started to experience internal pressures from the Muslim Brotherhood when they killed 50 Syrian soldiers, and attempted an assassination of Hafez. In response to the attempted coup, Hafez began a crackdown that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Syrians, many who had nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood. (MacFarquhar, Hafez al-Assad, Who Turned Syria Into a Power in the Middle East, Dies at 69, 2000) All of this is not to suggest that Assad is simply the reincarnation of his father, but there are certainly some visible influences on him. From Assads perspective, his fathers rule was a successful one that lasted for 30 years, and in order to replicate that, Hafaz showed that violence is necessary to suppress potential dissent. Somewhat interestingly, Bashar al-Assad spoke of reforming the government upon his election to the presidency of Syria, but those promises soon disintegrated into empty rhetoric. Like his father, Assad has justified the violence, by saying it is necessary to bring stability to the country.

Farmer 3 The problem of personal bias is not the only effect on Assad, he also has selective perceptions when deciding what steps the Syrian government should take. The selective perception that Assad has is an information screen, which, are subconscious filters through which people put the information coming in about the world around them (Goldstein & Pevehouse, 2012). To put it another way, it is when a leader cherry-picks only the information that supports the decision that he/she want to make. One misperception that Assad makes is concerning casualties, because he only sees the killing of his soldiers. In an interview, Assad was quoted saying, somewhat ironically, that, No government in the world kills its people, unless its led by a crazy person (Cowell, 2011). He goes on to claim that the vast majority of casualties have been government troops, but even a generous interpretation of the facts has shown this to be false. The only way that Assad could have come to this conclusion was through cherrypicking his information. The decisions that Assad has made on the individual level of analysis certainly play a part in the perpetuation of the violence of Syria, but his decisions cannot be the sole reason. There must also be other domestic reasons that have kept the Syrian rebels from being successful. For one, the government of Syria has long been in the hands of the Alawite minority, who only constitutes 12 percent of Syrian, as opposed to the Sunni Muslim majority that represents 75 percent of the population (The New York Times, 2012). Naturally, the government decisions have leaned towards benefitting the Alawite minority, and this has created a tyranny of the majority effect. Historically, simply having a

Farmer 4 majority of the people in a country is not sufficient enough to overthrow a government. Even places like South Africa where the government was reformed, it was still a long road to reaching a stability. The government is currently controlled by Baath Party, which is effectively an interest group that represents the Alawites. The Baath government is set up in such a way that their dominance is not going to be challenged through democratic means in the foreseeable future. Syria operates under the faade that it is a parliamentary republic, but in reality it is an authoritarian government that is controlled by Assad and the Baath Party. Elections are effectively useless, so there is no chance of having a peaceful and democratic transition of power to a new party. In democracies, the legislatures play a significant role in determining policy, but they are of no use when the elections are regarded as a sham by the people (MacFarquhar, Syrians Vote in Election Dismissed by Foes as a Farce, 2012). The Syrian government claims the elections to be fair, but that is impossible to believe when the ethnicity that makes up 70 percent of the population does not control the government. The last domestic issue that has crippled the Syrian people is the presence of the military. In most cases, the military is primarily an issue that should be dealt with on the international level, however, Syria is a special case because the threat of the military is being used against its own people. The military has been used against the rebel groups, but it has also been used to suppress the Syrian people. It is impossible to know exact numbers, but estimates put the death toll at well above 10,000 Syrians. The military has also been utilized to prevent

Farmer 5 anyone from giving out aid or medicine (The New York Times, 2012). In effect, even assuming that the majority of Syrian public opinion is indeed upset with the current government, there is little those people would be able to do because of the overwhelming presence of the military. A levels of analysis approach is not complete without looking at the situation from an international perspective. Based on the evidence, there is little from either the individual or domestic levels that suggests that the violence in Syria might conclude soon. The United Nations is the primary intergovernmental organization that is thought of when dealing with international crisis, such as the violence in Syria. To date, the United Nations Security Council has been powerless in trying to pass even a condemnation of the violence in Syria, because both China and Russia have exercised their veto power to prevent a resolution. Russia opposes the resolution on the grounds that, did not place sufficient blame for the violence on the opposition, and that it unrealistically demanded that the government withdraw its military forces back to their barracks (MacFarquhar & Shadid, Russia and China Block U.N. Action on Crisis in Syria, 2012). It is important to note that Russia did abstain from a vote that allowed military action in Libya, but that seems unlikely this time because Russia and China are much closer allies with Syria. Another potential IGO that could get involved is NATO, and their intervention is usually easier to arrange because there is no presence of Russia or China to veto a resolution. In fact, NATO was used to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, which proved to be highly effective in curtailing the violence. To the

Farmer 6 surprise of some, NATO has vehemently denied the possibility of any involvement in Syria (Cameron-Moore & Karadeniz, 2012). One reason for this may be that Syria is a completely different from Libya in terms of geography and military capacity. If NATO wanted to intervene in Syria, a no-fly zone would not be sufficient because the majority of the violence is taking place in the streets. It is considerably easier for a country to commit air support than ground troops, with the reason that the latter almost guarantees at least some casualties. NATO members, especially the United States, are hesitant about sending more troops overseas to fight a war for another country. The United States is tired of war right now, so getting public opinion high enough to support a 5th war is inconceivable. Finally, there is one glimmer of hope for Syria on the international stage: the Arab League. The Arab League, which includes regional power Saudi Arabia, condemned the actions of Assads government (Goodman, 2011). The Arab League has called for Western intervention, but this plea has been to no avail. This illustrates one of the central problems of international organizations: oftentimes, there is no enforcement mechanism to carry out a resolution. The Arab League would like to take more action against Syria, but the only thing that they are able to do is kick Syria out of the Arab League. The question of why the violence has continued to perpetuate can be boiled down to a combination of Assads rule, the internal domestic struggles, and the ambivalence of the international community to take any action. All three of these problems are entrenched, and they show no signs of changing course

Farmer 7 without serious correction. There is no question that something should be done to curb the violence in Syria, but the question is what should be done, and whether it should be done on the regional or international level. Until either Assads regime crumbles, or someone from the international community intervenes, Syrians will be forced to fend for themselves as they descend closer to civil war.

Farmer 8 Bibliography Cowell, A. (2011, December 7). In Rare Interview, Assad Denies Ordering Crackdown in Syria. The New York Times. Goldstein, J. A., & Pevehouse, J. C. (2012). Internation Relations: Brief 6th Edition. Boston: Pearson. MacFarquhar, N. (2000, June 10). Hafez al-Assad, Who Turned Syria Into a Power in the Middle East, Dies at 69. The New York Times. Retrieved from Cornell University Library. MacFarquhar, N. (2012, May 7). Syrians Vote in Election Dismissed by Foes as a Farce. The New York Times. MacFarquhar, N., & Shadid, A. (2012, February 12). Russia and China Block U.N. Action on Crisis in Syria. The New York Times. The New York Times. (2012, May 16). Syria. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from The New York Times: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritorie s/syria/index.html