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Syrian Conflict

What can be done about the crisis in Syria?

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The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria captured the minds of the leaders of the G8 nations. In Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, the leaders of the eight nations came together in mid–June for their regular meeting of high level government officials. The conversation quickly turned to resolving the terrible situation in Syria which has led to the death of over 100,000 men, women and children. The refugee problem has swelled into neighboring Jordan and Turkey. Many thousands of Syrian citizens are living in camps and makeshift accommodations, but the longtime leadership of the al–Assad family remains in place.

Current President Bashar al–Assad has received political and military support from Russia and China. This assistance has enabled him to stay in power and keep control of his country, extending the reign of his family since his father Hafez al–Assad became president in 1971. The West would like to see him and his regime removed from power, citing a track record of oppression and human rights abuses. A replacement government may be hard to put in place, however, as the rebels are made up of different factions with differing viewpoints on how Syria should be governed and structured.

Britain and France believe that the only way out of the crisis is to arm the rebels. British Prime Minister David Cameron has been at the forefront of this proposed solution and urged other countries to assist the Syrian opposition with military aid. Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is strongly opposed to any action, citing the terrible atrocities committed by the rebel forces. Several nations also express concern that the weapons at a later time will be used against the allies of the West, including Jordan, Turkey and Israel.

As the conflict has dragged on, outside mercenaries affiliated with terrorist groups and other nations have joined the fight, also raising the specter that western military aid may fall into the hands of terrorists. Lord John Hutton, former defense secretary of the UK, wrote in the Daily Telegraph on June 25, 2013, “I do understand the nervousness of all the main parties about getting drawn into this conflict. But while there are no guarantees of success in this scenario, there is only the certainty of failure if we do nothing at all.”

The United States was noticeably absent from involvement in Syria during the first two years of civil war. Involvement in protracted wars in middle eastern countries for more than a decade tempered the enthusiasm for intervention of many American politicians. Now that proof has emerged that President Assad has used chemical weapons against his own citizens, the US Administration has become involved in efforts to arm the rebel forces. However, some western nations feel like the United States has already missed an opportunity to lead and take a stand against oppression and mass murder, arriving on the scene too late.

What started as an internal uprising during the Arab Spring of 2011 has dragged on to become a messy combination of many factions who all have conflicting agendas. There are no easy answers or solutions to the unrest in Syria, but the involvement of foreign interests will no doubt add another layer of complexity to the situation.