My topic started out as Russian and Chinese relations in Syria, but as I read more I became more interested in what was actually happening in Syria and why. I learned about the opposing perspectives on the conflict, particularly Iran and Russia’s versus the U.S.’s; and then I tried to get a better understanding of those views by learning about the events leading up to the conflict, which sent me to the beginnings of Syria and the Ba’ath movement. This helped me better understand the impact of imperialism, intervention, and globalization on Syria and the Middle East. Ultimately it led me to the belief that foreign meddling in the Middle East and Africa is at the root of many of the conflicts we see in those regions today.
The first article I read was called “The Four Axes of the East” and was about Iranian, Syrian, Russian, and Chinese relations. It was written by Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist at Harvard and frequently consulted expert on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Rafizadeh talked about these relations in a political realist perspective, detailing Iran’s, Russia’s, and China’s strategic interests in Syria- notably, Russia’s port in Latakia and Iran’s military base, Hezbollah, which sits on the otherside of Syria from Iran.
Next I read an article written by a former congressmen and presidential candidate, Dennis J. Kucinich, titled “The Real Reason We Are Bombing Syria”. In this article Kucinich criticized political realist motivations behind U.S. action in the Middle East and made some bold claims about war-profiteering that may support a non-interventionist perspective. I think the main point Kucinich was trying to make is that “ISIS was born of Western intervention in Iraq and covert action in Syria.” He claimed that the U.S. funded an army to attack Syria under the guise of seeking freedom, and then that army of “moderates” turned into the extremists known as ISIS, which the U.S. now uses as a reason to bomb Syria.
The argument was made that although ISIS and the U.S. are sworn enemies, they benefit from some of the same events. These include ousting the Iraqi president for refusing to let U.S. troops maintain a presence there, regime change in Syria, and “arming the Kurds so they can separate from Iraq, a preliminary move to partitioning Iraq.” Furthermore Kucinich said that the U.S. paid 15 billion dollars to train 5,000 more moderate soldiers in Saudi to replace the old moderates that supposedly became ISIS. According to him, Qatar and Saudi have been trying for years to covertly bring down Syria, the last secular state in the region, and can now openly join the U.S. in bombing the country.
Kucinich worries that the U.S.’s decision to essentially fund what he labels a “war of aggression” will lead to crimes against humanity and deaths of innocent civilians, and that no amount of public relations or “smooth talk” will change that. He also says that the whole thing has nothing to do with U.S. national security and that we have no realistic reason to get involved, but he alludes to war-profiteering and maybe some covert strategic motivations. Although I do not think Kucinich took an explicit radicalist perspective, I think his arguments lend themselves to the view that globalization is “imperialism by another name” (CG). I’m not sure how much I agree or disagree with Kucinich’s claims, because I have no way to verify them, but I thought it was an interesting take and it seems to align more with Russian and Iranian views about the Syrian conflict opposed to mainstream Western views.
The next two articles, “Why arming rebels will fuel Syria’s inferno” and “Russia, Iran challenge Kerry’s plan for anti-IS unity at UN”, came from Al-Monitor. The first one was written by a man currently living in Aleppo and I think lends itself to CG argument against the promotion of democracy by force in other countries. According to this man, the fear of death and loss of loved ones daunts everyone living in Syria right now, no matter whose side they’re on. He says no one cares anymore about who’s to blame or who “sits the throne” at the end of it all, they just want the fighting to stop, and arming the rebel groups will only fuel the chaos and prolong their suffering, not liberate them.
The other article discussed why Russia and Iran are opposed to the U.S. Secretary’s proposal to create a united front against IS. Russia and Iran primarily worry about plans to strike IS on Syrian territory without approval from the government in Damascus. Instead of simply telling the Syrian government about missile strikes, as done in the past, Russia and Iran argue that international law dictates more explicit approval, and that not doing so violates the principle of sovereignty and may have a “destructive practical consequence”. They fear that western powers are using the IS threat as an excuse to intervene in order to impose regime change, and that aiding the rebels in a fight against IS and the Syrian government will ultimately create more chaos. In fact, “Russia’s ambassador to the UN for his part flatly faulted the U.S. invasion of 2003 and its support of the Syrian uprising for the current woes,” and he also pointed out that U.S. arms provided to rebel groups ended up in the hands of IS. This made me wonder if Russia itself upholds the principle of sovereignty, particularly with recent events in Ukraine.
The next article focused on the perspective of the the Syrian National Coalition, Hadi al-Bahra, which I think is reflected in a lot of common Western news sources. Contrary to other articles I talked about, Bahra believes that the root of the IS problem and extremism is the Assad regime and that the FSA needs more support to strengthen the coalition against them. He thinks that U.S. air attacks against IS in Syria and Iran are undermining FSA, weakening the international coalition. He believes that airstrikes will be ineffective because they only target the symptom of the problem, not the root (the regime), and he also believes that cease-fires will only be a temporary solution; so ultimately he wants more military support for the opposition on the ground in order to topple the regime. Unlike the previous articles, this one supports a pro-intervention argument, which I disagree with. I think the man from Aleppo made a more compelling and personal argument for non-interventionism. It doesn’t seem like more violence will help create peace or that more foreign intervention will alleviate the effects that foreign meddling had on the region in the first place.
To get a better understanding of the regime in Syria, I read about the history of the Ba’ath party. This is a rough summary of how I understand it: after World War I the modern Syrian state was established as a French mandate. In April 1947 Syria gained its independence, and in that same month the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party was founded in Syria by Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar and associates. The party was based on the ideologies of Arab nationalism, pan-Arabism, Arab socialist and anti-imperialist interests. Its motto was “Unity, Liberty, Socialism”, which refers to Arab unity and freedom from non-Arab control and interference. They merged with the Syrian Communist Party and their success led to the establishment of the United Arab Republic, which was a union of Egypt and Syria.
In the meantime, the Ba’ath party branch in Iraq grew frustrated with leader Abd al-Karim Qasim. Although they originally supported his seizure of power and abolishment of the Iraqi Monarchy, they changed their minds after he said they would enter Iraq into the UAR and didn’t; so Saddam Hussein led an unsuccessful assassination attempt on him. The UAR broke up shortly in 1961; but the Ba’ath party still wanted Qasim out, so they overthrew him in a 1963 coup that was rumored to be supported by the CIA. This coup inspired the March Revolution of 1963 that established the rule of the Ba’ath party in Syria. However, the March Revolution coup was led by the Military Committee of the Ba’ath party, which was established during the UAR to take control of the party from civilian hands and led by Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father. The Military Committee’s plans were approved of by Aflaq, one of the founding members of the party and leader of the civilian faction of the party, but a power struggle quickly developed between the civilian faction and the Military Committee; so in 1966 the Military Committee initiated a coup that ousted the national command led by Aflaq, his associates, and his supporters. This split the Ba’ath party into the Syrian and the Iraqi one.
I think the Ba’ath movement originally emerged as a reaction against imperialism, but was hijacked by people whose views are very different from the founding members, and now the goals of eliminating non-Arab interference and control seem far out of reach. I think the root of violence in a lot of countries that I know of are from the rough transitions that follow imperialism and foreign meddling, and I think Syria is an example of this. For these reasons I take a radicalist perspective on globalization.