December 31, 2015

Syria

Today I got slightly obsessed with the Syrian crisis. Because some sort of tipping point of my ignorance was reached such that I wanted to overcome it to some extent.

I really wanted to know who or what caused the Syrian mess. To assign blame, since I put the “J” in the Myers-Briggs INTJ.

Was it the dysfunctional Arab culture itself?  Islam and its despotic tendencies? Was it George W Bush, directly or indirectly? Was it Obama by pulling out of Iraq and punting on Syria?

The proximate trigger in Syria was simply a couple teenagers scrawling graffiti. The government killed them and that lead to massive protests. The teens had written pro-revolutionary sayings, a lesson in “be careful what you wish for" since sometimes the status quo looks awfully good, if only in hindsight.

The timeline:
    2003 - Iraq is invaded
    2008 - U.S. surge in Iraq ended; troop withdrawal in '10 and '11
    2010 - Tunisia protests begin; a man self-immolates and triggers overthrown of gov't
    2011 - Teenagers scrawl graffiti in Syria; gov't action triggers civil war
    2015:  Syrian civil war now proxy war with other countries participating
A few theories:

1) Iraq War and Bush Administration: Fall of Saddam was said to psychologically empower Arab activists. US government began funding “democracy promotion” agenda including training on social media, one of the top causes of effectiveness of protests. U.S. policy misled many Arab youth to believe freedom was possible in their societies especially given the expectations of US temporary “success” in Iraq post-surge.

Syria's Assad, not unbiased of course, blames the war:
“It was the Iraq war in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. We were strongly opposed to that invasion, because we knew that things were moving in the direction of dividing societies and creating unrest. And we are Iraq’s neighbors. At that time, we saw that the war would turn Iraq into a sectarian country; into a society divided against itself. To the west of Syria there is another sectarian country – Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we would be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds…Why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf States – particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy?“
2) Unemployment with large youth populations

Large numbers of youth + unemployment = huge trouble for societies. If one simply looks at the unemployment rate of each Middle East country you can see where the dominoes fell. In general, the Gulf States had much lower rates of unemployment and poverty than Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.

3) Religious hatreds

Syria has Sunni/Shia combo, always a deadly mix.

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One of the comments that look particularly cringe-worthy in retrospect was made in 2005 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither."

And she thought we didn't have stability then...?

And the other thing about Rice's comment that leaves me perplexed is the premise is that our policies will determine the fate of the Middle East.  Notice the huge tell: "we achieved neither" as if the people who actually live in the Middle East are completely impotent or in someway ancillary to the policies of our "empire".... I'm beginning to think Republicans are to foreign countries what liberals are to blacks: Paternalistic and condescending.

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