HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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The Syrian Civil War: The Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East


While, over the course of this class, we have studied the resistance of the Middle East to foreign influence, it is important to know that there are sources of internal strife and conflict in the region as well. A prime example of this is the ongoing Syrian Civil War, or the Syrian Uprising. For those of you who are not aware, since the advent of the Arab Spring movement of 2011, specifically April/March of 2011, there has been open and armed conflict in Syria.  It is important for us as American students to understand this conflict, because it shows that Muslims do not only fight and have a distaste for corrupt foreign influences, but also internal threats to their ways of life and their powers in government. This particular conflict was caused by many different factors but, for the most part, the main issue is that the indigenous population is fed up with the oppressive actions of the Ba’ath Party, specifically President Bashar al-Assad. However, in order to fully understand the conflict that we know today, we need to first know where this history of oppression and discontent began.


In January, the UN announced that the death toll in this conflict had exceeded over 60,000 total and that the majority of human rights abuses were on the side of the established government in both gravity and scale. In short, the death toll of this unmitigated conflict is getting very large and most of the outright slaughter is being performed on the behalf of the government not the revolutionaries. Looking this fact dead in the face it is easy to see that the political party in power, meaning the Ba’ath party, has no qualms with slaughtering it’s own people to remain in power. As to the beginnings of the revolution,  the argument can be made that this was an inevitable outcome, due to the highly oppressive nature of the Syrian government towards it’s own people. A good example of this oppressive nature can be seen even at the beginning of the rise to power of the Ba’ath Party.


In 1964, the Ba’ath Party, in a coup d’etat, seized power of the Syrian government. After a series of internal conflicts in 1966 up to 1970, resulting in the deaths of most of their original leaders, Hafez al-Assad, originally a defense minister, seized power and the Syrian people have been under very strict military control ever since, approximately 50 years. This military control resulted in a government that cared little about human rights in favor of strict and total control of the Syrian populace. Given these facts and their implications, the question I choose to ask is this: Why have we, The United States, not gotten involved up to this point? It seems to me that, more than economic profit, more than the spreading of democracy in the Middle East, the need to have a value for human life and a refusal to tolerate a government slaughtering it’s own people should be enough to prompt us to action. Perhaps the more astonishing part of our non-involvement is that humans rights violations akin to what we are seeing now are not a new thing to the Syrian populace, in fact this has been going on, over and over, for about five decades. Perhaps it is my lack of understanding of the nature of or motivations that drive war and conflict, but it seems to me that coming to the aid of a historically repressed people, especially when they are fighting and being killed by their government for their right to choose their government, is a much more noble and clandestine venture than going to war in the Middle East for economic profit, which is our current history in the region. As an additional note, this would also be a much easier way of making allies in the region as well. In essence, it is good to see Muslim people fighting to free themselves of the yolk of oppression, however I really wish the US government would  mean what it says when it comes to the goals it says it is trying to achieve by being a military force in the Middle East.




  1. kledbetter6 says:

    You bring up an interesting point about the selectivity of the United States’ interference in foreign affairs. I’m not very well-versed in exactly what’s been going on in Syria, at least not to the point where I could make an informed political decision about what other countries should do, but from your post there does seem to be an extensive amount of human rights violations occurring, which the world powers usually deem enough justification to get involved. Have any outside countries entered this conflict? Would countries have been more likely to enter before what happened with Afghanistan and Iraq after foreign intervention?

    Incidentally, did you create the picture “Chaos in Syria”? I found that to be a very effective visualization of the conflict.

  2. sstephenson3 says:

    Thank you for the comment. As far as I can tell, no outside country has really stepped up to enter/end the conflict. In response to whether someone would have were it not for our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, I cannot say. Lastly, no I did not create the “Chaos in Syria” picture.

  3. kolson23 says:

    Very well written post. The Syrian conflict is not something I have ever looked deeply into. I found this blog very informative and insightful with regards to the conflicts origins. I did not realize that the tension between the government and people had been going on for so long. As for the U.S. I don’t really understand our logic when it comes to intervention in foreign affairs, though I would not consider myself an avid follower of politics so that may be why. It seems the U.S. likes to pick and choose what exactly we are going to jump in on, and it is not always something that involves human rights, and I agree that it seems more important than spreading democracy. But maybe some of out decision makers see the spread of democracy as a way for a people to gain more human rights?

  4. chai164 says:

    Forgive me for being overly opinionated, but I really don’t think the US needs to get involved in another attempt at ‘saving the world’. Syrians are mobilizing themselves to fight for freedom and I think that external intervention is just going to result in another Iraq or another Afghanistan. The US already seems to focus more on its military than its education, and trying to save Syria is going to create more problems than it solves. I honestly think that the US needs to focus its efforts internally before rushing off to aid the rest of the world.

    In other news, there’s a similar uprising in Bangladesh against the corruption of their leaders and the injustice their people have faced. These nations are capable of fighting for their own change. Let us respect them for it, and let them have their pride in their struggle for freedom. Granted the US does have the power, influence, and ability to assist these nations, but there needs to be a line drawn between providing aid and unnecessary intervention.

    • I have the same opinion. I believe the US has overstayed their welcome trying to help out other countries. The US should really be focusing on its own problems. Just like you said, Syria will most likely turn into another Iraq if the US helps.

      I also believe that the US will intervene with another country for reasons other than to help the people. For example, 9/11 conspiracy believers think the US created 9/11 solely to gain access to oil in the middle east.

  5. Kaitlyn Johnson says:

    After spending a semester at the State Department, I understand why the US helps other countries with humanitarian issues, rule of law, and establishing economies. I believe the US should aid only to stop the violence, killings of innocent people, and help with the refugee problem in surrounding nations.
    We’ve interfered a lot in international affairs over the past century and honestly, most of them have not turned out for the better. The people of a nation should be able to gain and fight for their own freedom but at what cost? I believe that if US did what it historically does and somehow removes Assad and replaces him with another Syrian leader that is pro-Western, we would be greatly infringing on the rights of the Syrian people.
    The question remains is it worth letting the Syrian people fight for themselves and what they believe in to gain freedom when the alternative is more peaceful and safe?

  6. John Girata says:

    The U.S./NATO/U.N. have a lot of success stories since WWII as far as intervening for “good” goes (e.g., Libya in 2011). But there are also the “obvious mistakes”: Vietnam and Iraq. How do we know whether the next conflict will be a Libya or a Vietnam? In high school we read a lot of op-eds from the 90’s about the crisis in Rwanda and the lack of U.S. intervention. That is another great example of a crisis that could have ended in 10 days or could have turned into a bloody insurgency for 10 years.

  7. nholdaway3 says:

    I agree with John, there are many nations in the world that have oppressive governments but choosing the right one to help with military force is not an easy job. On top of John’s point, the government has to take into account the cost of such an operation. With the new budget cuts, the military would be hard pressed to start a new operation in another country. It reminds me of a quote, “Toppling a government is cheap and easy, but building one can cost you an army”

  8. flambert3 says:

    Interesting I wonder does the US want to be something like the veiled protectorate we have seen from Britain and really control and let the people govern what the US seems fit through the selection they have shown

  9. jkipp3 says:

    I feel that the UN would be more suited to intervene in this situation than the US. This way more informed decisions may be made by allowing for input from various world leaders, and the monetary cost could be spread out amongst many nations.

  10. marymsherman says:

    This is a very insightful piece that gives me a better grip on the main things going on in Syria, so thank you for that. I personally don’t agree in US involvement in terms of military support. That would involve officially “picking sides” which could lead to public relations problems in other surrounding nations. I think country going through a civil war will not come to a peaceful conclusion of other countries get involved. With external involvement comes external policy and priorities. It will be interesting to follow the crisis in Syria over its tenure.

  11. nathenj65 says:

    Thank you for picking this topic. I have been out of date on what is currently occurring over there and this did a very good job of updating me on the current conflicts. I have very much agree with mary in that countries in a civil war usually should be able to fight it out among themselves or risk it getting much bigger for no reason. However, if it comes to the point where the deaths start to pile up and there doesn’t look like an end is any close to coming upon the conflict sometimes it is best for a stronger power to come in and settle things for the good of everyone that is involved.

  12. mitch7991 says:

    I agree with what your saying. Our involvement in the Middle East should definitely be focused more on these issues. But honestly, I don’t believe we need to be involved in ANYTHING right now. We first need to get our own country together. We could be doing a lot better economically and politically, but we also need to get a grip on our morals and views, the ones this nation was founded on. We have strayed away spiritually and have started to become a little too tolerant. Plus, we need to take care of our debts before we commit to another war.

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