Globalization has generated new technologies that have allowed brave individuals to document the inhumane suffering endured by Syrians at the hands of their own government, opposition militias, religious extremists and even human traffickers. But the way events in Syrian communities are seen by world audiences has changed the intentions for intervention. The Syrian War showcases the dark side of these developments. There has been and unprecedented level of foreign involvement on every side of the Syrian Civil War. Realism in relation to globalization plays a big role in understanding the transformation of the involvement of foreign actors in the Syrian War.
Syria’s conflict is in its eighth year as of March 2018. Several aspects related to the ongoing conflict in Syria can be explained looking at the Realist theory. The center of this viewpoint is the concept of ‘statism’, which means that “the state is the pre-eminent actor and all other actors in world politics are of lesser significance” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008: 103). Realists consider that states have the highest authority in the international system, given the condition of anarchy (Steans & Pettiford, 2005: 49).
After seven years peaceful protests with President Bashar Assad in power, an armed rebellion following a brutal government crackdown took place. In an address at Damascus University on June 20, 2011, three months after the outbreak of the anti-regime uprising, Assad assured his audience that these ‘intrigues and acts of murder do not have it in their power to prevent the blossoming in Syria,’ vowing to turn this decisive moment into a . . . day, in which the hope will throb that our homeland will return to being the place of quiet and calm we have become accustomed to. (The Many Implications The End of the Syrian Civil War. By: Zisser, Eyal, Middle East Quarterly, 10739467, Summer2019, Vol. 26, Issue 3). Eight years and at the horrendous cost of more than half-a-million fatalities, two million wounded, some five to eight million refugees who fled the country, and untold mayhem and destruction, the Syrian president restored a facade of the promised ‘quiet and calm,’ homeland. What made this ironic is that on his ascendance a decade earlier, the young Bashar tried to introduce certain changes, and even some limited reform, in the socioeconomic realm. Yet, having realized the uproar these changes were causing, he backed down and brought the ‘Damascus Spring’ to an abrupt end. Those who had raised their voices in favor of reform and change were imprisoned, and severe restrictions on the freedom of expression were reintroduced.
But in 2011, Assad was confronted with a new and much less controllable ‘spring’ comprised of large numbers of disgruntled laborers and border residents longing for improvement in their socioeconomic area rather than intellectuals and thinkers. As a result, Assad was forced to use harsher measures to repress the rapidly spreading rebellion. With the uprisings mentioned in the West as ‘the Arab Spring’ and actively supported by Western powers, whether tacitly as in the Obama administration’s pressure on Egyptian president Mubarak to step down or directly through the military intervention that overthrew Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the Assad regime seemed to be next in line on the Western hit list. As President Obama put it in a May 2011 speech, ‘The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition or get out of the way.’
The Assad regime weathered the storm through massive military support from Tehran and Moscow, which also shielded it from repeated U.S. intervention threats-most notably in August 2012 when Obama announced his intention to launch a vindictive strike in response to the deadly gassing of more than a thousand Syrian civilians. In doing so, the Assad regime not only defeated a lethal threat to its existence but also spelled the end of Western delusions of regional democratization and openness that would allow ordinary Middle Easterners to determine their own fate and the fate of their respective societies and states.
According to Zisser, most Western observers of the Middle East should have paid greater attention to their regional counterparts who had long argued that, given the historical legacy and socioeconomic conditions attending decades of rule by authoritarian monarchies and military dictatorships, the Arab world was not ripe for a change, certainly not for democracy. Analysts were, therefore, much more cautious and restricted in defining the regional uproar, using the term harak – a movement or a shift that might not necessarily lead anywhere – signifying a sharp change of direction or break from past practices.
In response to these armed rebellions, Russia and Iran have provided massive aid to Assad’s forces, allowing them to advance on a number of fronts in recent years. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011 and half the population has been driven from their homes, with more than 5 million becoming refugees, mainly in neighboring countries. Several rounds of peace talks have done little to stem the bloodshed. And this is just the beginning.
The war officially began in March 2011 when protests erupted in the city of Daraa over security forces’ detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of their school and on March 15, a protest is held in Damascus’ Old City. On March 18, security forces opened fire on a protest in Daraa, killing four people in what activists’ regard as the first deaths of the uprising. On September 30, 2015 Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria in support of Assad’s forces.
The involvement of some of the major participants in the Syrian War began with more traditional strategic strategies, but these have been transformed by the new opportunities. Starting with Russia’s involvement. Russia’s position can be explained using Morgenthau’s realist concept of ‘animus dominandi’ (Jackson and Sørensen, 1999: 76), which refers to human, and implicitly states’, drive for power. This can be illustrated by quoting directly from Ruslan Pukhov, defense analyst: “Syria is the only country in the Middle East which follows our advice, this is the country where we can exercise certain tangible influence […] It has some symbolic value for the Russian authorities and the foreign policy establishment as a sign of Russia as a great power.” (Rosenberg, 2012).
Russia’s involvement started as a way for Putin to keep access to the only Russian naval base in the Mediterranean, in Tartus, Syria, but that doesn’t explain the level of military aid and diplomatic force that Russia has given into supporting Bashir Al Assad’s control. Russia could have worked out a quiet deal with the opposition to keep both the naval base and negotiations over future gas and oil pathways. But what Russia could not have done with a low-profile deal is showcase Russia’s return to superpower status. The war between Syria and its government was the perfect for Russia to sneak its way back in.
Russia made Syria its trade show for its new military and arms industry. Bombing Syria is a way of eliminating Syrian opposition fighters, but more importantly it’s a relatively cheap way of signaling Russian non-compliance with the West’s plans for the world. The Russians are playing for power over the world, not just for a naval base on the Mediterranean, and Assad is just an opportunity to send a message to NATO, the Ukraine, and anyone else watching, including the Russian people themselves.
At some level the U.S., U.K., French, Turkish, Israeli, Canadian, Australian and Jordanian air strikes in Syria are also about sending messages. Not just to ISIS, or whoever is intentionally or unintentionally on the receiving end of the strikes, but to domestic and international audiences. The effectiveness of bomb strikes might be officially measured in body counts, but the PR effects that are not measured are an important part of the equation. While the air strikes do something about the terrorist threat and satisfy the public, unfortunately they do little to resolve the underlying problems that led to the Syrian War and continue to shelter extremism.
The changes in communication technologies, as a result of globalization, have altered the dynamics of war in other ways as well. The same technology that released individuals from dependence on limited and controlled sources of information prior to the Arab Spring is also benefiting sub-state actors. This is perhaps even more threatening than using Syria for politics. So far only regimes and “the opposition,” have been referred to as if the state or its opponent were the most important unit. But, individual groups within the Syrian opposition can easily become individual militias by developing their own foreign policies. If the U.S. has concerns about their political rank, they can seek arms and funding from another state, or even a non-state actor that might have a political, economic, or religious motive. And if there are followers in the group that don’t like the new agreement, they can go and seek other relations. It’s as if all the basketball players in the NBA became free agents not just every year, or every game, but every single play of the game—and the uniform didn’t always tell you which team they were on.
The civil war that has raged in Syria over the past eight years seems to be drawing to a close. In July 2018, the Syrian government regained control of the southern part of the country, including the town of Daraa where the revolt began in March 2011. Five months later in December 2018, U.S. president Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, driving the final nail in the coffin of the rebellion. Although the return of stability and security to the war-torn country is still a far-off goal, the military campaign is effectively over. The efforts of the rebel groups-supported by large segments of the Syrian population-to overthrow the Assad regime, which has ruled the country since 1970, have failed. President Bashar Assad emerged as the undisputed winner though he did so only thanks to the massive military aid rendered by Moscow, Tehran, and Iran’s Hezbollah Lebanese proxy.
In relation to international society, questions like “How will the end of the war affect Syria’s relations with its consumers?” and “What will be its implications for wider Middle Eastern stability?” have come up.
Viewed from a broad historical perspective, the end of the civil war concludes yet another chapter in ‘the struggle for Syria’ that has plagued the country since gaining independence in April 1946, or indeed, since its label as a distinct political entity under French mandate at the end of the 1920s.