President Barack Obama has been quoted saying that “this is the most transparent administration in history.” Contrary to his claim, a rousing 63 percent of Americans disagree with the statement of transparency. In May of this past year, his approval rating dipped below 50 percent for the first time during his tenure as head of state. In recent months, there has not been much of an upswing in his approval rating. To be certain, there are a multitude of factors that contributed to both the drop in rating and those continuing to pin it down. First and foremost, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for good reason, have not been forgotten by the American public. Granted, he was not in office when the 9/11 atrocities took place, but he did inherit the issues left behind. He was able to remove boots from the ground in Iraq by December of 2011. Iraq proved to be bit of a hollow victory for the American people; 10 years, thousands dead, and millions of dollars later there wasn’t much to hold above our heads as a result of the conquest. Afghanistan has proven to be a bit of a different story. In the spring of 2011, long sought after Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was finally captured and killed in his own home. The public rejoiced and praised Obama for finally orchestrating the capture and demise of the man responsible for the worst terrorist attack in American history. The victory sent a spike through Obama’s approval ratings and significantly lifted the mood of the American public. It even inspired the firsthand account of Seal Team Six, and the ever controversial Zero Dark Thirty.
Obama has been a controversial figure since his first election. Eight months into his second and most pivotal term, there are more than a few factors colliding at once. Just last week, he hinted at the bypassing of congressional approval toward military action in Syria. Had he done this, a new precedent would have been set in the realm of Presidential power in regards to militaristic action.
The statement, after the Putin weapon removal proposal, seems entirely ambiguous and probably a little misguided. The acceptance of the deal, even more so than its consideration, actually comes across as a little baffling. President Obama originally asked Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down on August 18th of 2011. Assad ignored the claim, as did much of the American public, and began combatting the Syrian Free army in March of the same year. The Syrian Civil War has been going on since March of 2011 and over 110,000 have died. Soldiers, civilians and children alike have been bloodily affected by this multifaceted conflict. Obama first called for a Syrian regime change in August of 2011. It took until August 21st of 2013, after a supposed attack on Syrian civilians, for the President to publicly announce his intentions to intervene in Syria. Two years passed, hundreds of thousands were killed, two million more fled to surrounding nations, and one chemical weapons attack supposedly killing 1,400 spurs the head of state to consider a strike.
Fast forward two weeks and Russian president Vladimir Putin proposes a deal to stop U.S. intervention in exchange for Syria relinquishing its chemical weapon supply. Secretary of State John Kerry deliberates with Obama, Putin and Secretary Lavrov, and a deal is reached. No strike. The president called for swift and fluid action in order to deter Assad from committing further crimes of war. Maybe he didn’t take action quickly enough. Whatever the case, it’s a little odd that a deal proposed and reached, supposedly birthed by an offhanded comment made by Secretary Kerry, was able to unhinge President Obama’s stance in a matter of hours.
Oddly enough, Syria, (officially the Syrian Arab Republic) is located deep in Western Asia and happens to sit in a very strategic geo-political location in regards to Western and European interests. Syria is bordered by Lebanon, the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. The Middle East, a historic region, has primarily made headlines over the past decade for their religious conflicts, radical groups and oil reserves. Per capita, Syria is only the 32nd-richest nation in the world in terms of oil exportation per year. Syria does, however, serve as a bit of a transfer state, most notably to Iraq and Israel. The transfer does not necessarily refer to oil reserves or pipelines within Syria. It refers, more specifically, to the strategic location of Syria and the power that a larger nation could theoretically allocate throughout the region with the control of the Syrian state.
Russia has a vested interest in Syria. Tartus, Syria’s second largest port city is host to a Russian naval base. It also happens to be Russia’s last remaining foreign military base outside of the former Soviet Union. Is it coincidental that the United States has not moved any of their six warships from the Mediterranean Sea since the weapon hand-over deal was reached? Is it odd that Russia, on Monday, bolstered their fleet in the Mediterranean by adding an 11th ship? Obviously it’s just for “precautionary” reasons due to the current state of affairs surrounding situational entirety.
Where is Assad in all of this? Russia has essentially been playing big brother to Syria throughout the entirety of the situation. Throughout the majority of the Syrian civil war, Russia has steadfastly stated and held the claim that they will block any United Nations’ attempt at outside-in intervention in Syria. A few factors contribute to this way of thinking; first and foremost is the aforementioned militaristic implications. Russia clearly has not grown out of its Cold War mentality and does not want to give up the final military remnant from the USSR, and finally, keeping with the Cold War mentality, Russia identifies United Nations or United States’ intervention as a form of Western Imperialism, and that is a threat to the Russian psyche and state.
The question still remains: did Assad use Sarin, a deadly chemical, against his own people in a continued attempt to scare the rebel forces into submission? The supposed site of the attack was South Ghouta, part of an agricultural belt surrounding the Syrian capital of Damascus. For thousands of years it has served as a median point between Syrian commerce in Damascus and the Syrian Desert. According to the UN reports performed by independent contractors, there is overwhelming evidence of a chemical attack at the purported site. Overwhelming evidence of a chemical attack was found by the United Nations just over six miles from the Syrian capital. The report did not assign blame for the crime of war, as has been done by many a political affiliation in the preceding weeks. Syria shares a large border with Jordan. United States forces, over the past year, have been deployed to multiple spots along the border in an effort to supply and train Jordanian soldiers against the spillover Syrian fighting that is taking place very, very close to their homeland.
Four days prior to the attack in question, 300 hand-picked and trained Syrian rebels that were trained by Jordanian and Israeli soldiers covertly entered Syria and began to move toward Damascus. These are the same rebels that late last year, despite their Al-Qaeda links, began to receive covert CIA training. Elements of this training supposedly included how to use anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. The type of training that, implicitly, would fall under the use of the Sarin-carrying rockets in question.
The Sarin attack outside Damascus was not an isolated incident, and it has been claimed on multiple occasions that pro-Assad forces have used chemical warfare against Syrian rebels and innocents. Assad has been waging a civil war for two years with the backing of one of the most historically controversial nations in Western civilization. He has been well aware, for quite some time, of the discontent that many around the world have with him and his practices. Was he really ignorant enough to blatantly use chemical warfare, an indefensible crime of war, so very close to his capital with the eyes of the world on his bloody civil war? The answer would seem to be a resounding no.
The Syrian civil war began with peaceful protests that evolved into something much more serious. Assad’s regime originally began to kill hordes of protestors under the assumption that it would quickly put an end to the pesky protests. Eventually, the public began to shoot back, the Free Syrian Army was born, and a civil war was on. The protests, like many other in the Middle East, were spawned by way of a religious-class conflict. The majority of Syrians are rural farmers under the title of Sunni Arabs. The state is run, however, by a much smaller and city dwelling aristocratic class of Alawites. They are Arabs who follow a smaller branch of Islam (Shia).
The farmers are poor and the aristocrats are rich; it’s an easy cycle to grasp hold of. The Alawites fervently support Assad because they are scared of what may happen if his regime falls. Case in point, if Assad is toppled and Russia relinquishes support, the Alawite class will be wiped out by the Sunnis, FSA and other rebel forces. This is not to say that the toppling of the Assad regime would lead to peace in Syria. In actuality, it would probably do the exact opposite, or effectively spawn a continuation of the already bloody civil war. Religious-class conflicts are nothing new to the Middle East; wars of this kind have been going on for quite some time. Libya is only beginning to recover from a 15-year civil war (1975-1990), the Afghanistan conflict in the late ‘90s, and of course the bloodbath that ensued after the United States removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
The conflict is nearly indigenous to the region and is in no way, shape or form unique to Syria. As the situation continues to escalate and unfold on the world stage, a multitude of factors are at play. How long can Russia continue to support a regime that is blatantly killing its own people? Does the United States have a vested interest in stopping Assad or are there colder militaristic implications at play? What will happen should the conflict breach the borders of the Syrian state and spill over into a region known for housing multiple powder kegs? As it stands, the United States is in a bind with no simple course of military action within Syrian borders, Russia has bought some time with their weapons exchange deal, and France is in the shadows without the threat of a U.S. congressional vote on whether or not to take action. The conflict is real, scary and has the potential to explode into the largest Middle Eastern conflict the world has seen.