Why is the Syrian Civil War Lingering?

why-is-the-syrian-conflict-lingering?The civil war that has raged in Syria for almost nineteen months shows no signs of abating, rather, there are indications that the conflict is likely to continue for a while longer. It could well turn out to be quite a while longer.

Both sides in the dispute need only look at Lebanon and its fifteen year civil war to learn that there is much more to civil war than winning or losing. Staying in the game, for example, is in itself somewhat of a victory.

Unlike the other countries in the Middle East that experienced revolutions and regime changes in the last two years it is now obvious that there cannot be a clear-cut victor and a clear-cut loser in this conflict, as was initially believed. But with spring and summer come and gone, the antagonists are gearing for winter, now just weeks away.

Indeed, in just weeks the weather will begin to change introducing with this change a new set of challenges for the fighters, but especially for the refugees who are housed in temporary, makeshift accommodations not meant to provide adequate shelter in inclement weather and sub-zero temperature.

One of the opposition’s primary concerns in fighting a protracted war against government forces was the procurement of arms and munitions, but the issue has now been addressed thanks to the “good will” of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile the US and NATO continue to issue threats of armed intervention, as they did in Libya, while the UN is running along the sidelines being about as inefficient as ever.

Additionally, two new indicators have emerged this week providing yet further proof that the conflict in Syria is here to stay for a long while

First, the Syrian Ministry of the Economy is asking Syrians to raise backyard chickens to help them through these hard economic times as inflation is beginning to skyrocket and some basic foodstuff is starting to become harder to find and when found they are far more expensive than they were just a week ago.

Second, a clear sign of troubled times ahead for the Syrian economy is the price of cooking gas that was quoted in US dollars and priced at $100 for a cylinder. This is a first in Syria where the Syrian pound has until now been the only legal tender. The adoption of the far more stable dollar is reminiscent of Lebanon’s economic woes following its civil war and the 1982 Israeli invasion.

The Lebanese pound was losing its value so rapidly that it was finally pegged to the dollar, but not before it dropped from three Lebanese pounds to the dollar, to 1,500 pounds to the dollar. In Syria the pound lost fifty percent of its value plummeting from forty-seven SYP in March to seventy-four SYP this week.

Indeed, after nineteen months of war that has, for all intents and purposes, destroyed the country’s economy, dealt a huge blow to the nation’s infrastructure, killed more than 30,000 people, wounded probably twice that number and will have created by the year’s end more than 700,000 refugees according to the UN agency tasked with caring for Syrians seeking temporary refuge in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

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And of course one may add to that list of tragedies, the brain drain that normally accompanies such conflicts. That impact is typically only felt years later and has a devastating effect on the country’s future potential leaders in all walks of life, from the cultural to the academic.

So why are calls from the international community ignored and why is the international community allowing itself to be ignored?

The international community does not appear to be too preoccupied by what is going on in Syria partially because as many observers in Washington see it, Damascus was the maverick of Middle East politics, opposing US policy in the region, and accused by Washington of supporting and engaging in acts of terrorism and they are now paying the price of that policy.

Many now see this as being payback time for the regime of President Bashar Assad. Yes, in order to appease the public at large and to appease its own conscience, the United Nations and the Arab League are going through the necessary steps of trying to establish a dialogue between the opponents, knowing full well that they are just spinning wheels. Basically paying lip service.

What is needed to put an end to the conflict is not another UN peace mission, which ultimately will fail because neither side at this point is interested in a peaceful settlement, but rather a peace imposition force. In other words, a force powerful enough to insert itself in hostile territory and enforce peace through armed force. That also will never happen as no country, except perhaps Qatar, is willing to commit its armed forces into such a wasp’s nest.

One paramount line of action that the United States could undertake and that will win it much admiration from the Syrian people would be for the US to invest heavily in future US-Syrian relations by providing better housing, medical care and education facilities for the refugees and their children.

The cost would amount to far less that a military intervention, a move that would bring the region’s wrath against Americans once again. Here is a golden opportunity for the United States to influence in a positive manner 700,000 friends in an Arab country that was and remains opposed to every US initiative in the Middle East. And no body has to die to implement that policy.

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, Islam Without a Veil, is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

  • Major Robert T. Jordan, USMC (Retired) DOD spokesman in Beiruit, Lebanon (Aug-Nov1983)

    Claude, your summation is the most cogent suggestion anyone has proposed since the beginning of this conflict.