The Influence of Imperialism on the Syrian Crisis (RELS 348)

Edward Dark’s article “How to Solve the Syrian CrisisThe Guardian, 13 November 2014 argues for the importance of international communities to work together to bring an end to civil war in Syria. He believes that there is no real consensus on how to resolve the Syrian conflict largely due to the international actors focus on their own self-interests as opposed to what is best for the Syrian people and ultimately the global community. The US has concentrated on toppling the current government since the beginning of the civil war, which began after the Assad regime’s brutal response to a popular pro-democracy uprising. The US approach of supporting, arming and trying to unite diverse factions to fight against the government has been largely unsuccessful.  Dark also feels that the main backers of the Syrian government, Iran and Russia, are also motivated by their own narrow interests namely Iran’s desire to increase their influence in the Middle East and Russia’s hope to prevent the expansion of NATO into areas where they have formerly been most influential. Dark notes that the unintended consequence of these political stalemates has been the growth of the jihadist movement, which is a threat to regional and global security.

Dark feels that a victory by either side is neither possible nor desirable. He also opposes the proposed break-up of Syria into sectarian subdivisions for political purpose. He proposes that in order to properly resolve the Syrian conflict the major powers backing both regime and opposition forces need to move past their own self-interest and engage in meaningful discussion that will lead to compromise. Dark pushes for the creation of conditions where ceasefires can hold and the peace process can genuinely begin. He suggests that a transitional government in Syria that is supported by the people, along with the aid of the wider international community, may eventually be able to defeat extremism in that country and help combat the spread of world-wide terrorism.

Syria is yet another example of a country negatively impacted by Imperialism. Although in the beginning Europeans may have believed that Imperialism was a policy of idealism and philanthropy it later became more accurately characterized by political, economic and religious self-interest. This is why according to Robert Irwin (2007), in his book For Lust of Knowing, there was a marked tendency for Orientalists to be anti-imperialist, even though they may initially have supported colonialism. Dark shares an anti-imperialist view in his article as he explores the impact of involvement of the current Imperialist Powers, the US and Russia in the problems of Syria.

Scott Anderson, in the article ”Why the Middle East’s Borders Will Never Be the Same Again,” The Guardian, 20 June 2014 reports that the seeds of conflict in the Middle East were planted after World War I, following the San Remo agreement of 1920, where despite the protests of Arab Nationalists, Greater Syria was divided into 4 parts – Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon and modern day Syria with the British controlling the first two and the French taking the later. He suggests that for three decades the Britain/French Imperialist Powers were able to weather conflicts of Arab rage by supporting their own complaint local leaders and employing military action when needed. In the 1950’s their influence collapsed and the Middle East came under the control of militant dictatorships. Now, after the Civil War in Syria erupted in 2011, Imperialist Powers are involved once again in order to protect their national self-interests. Interestingly, Dark points out that the US and many of its European allies, failed to grasp the full implications of their commitment to overthrowing an entrenched pervasive regime with a powerful army and unwavering support of its allies. This is reminiscent of the US involvement in the Vietnam War where Uwe Siemon-Nettto in his book, Triumph of the Absurd, clearly illustrates how the U.S underestimated the tenacity of North Vietnam.

Dark makes a valid point that it is time to move beyond these Imperialist attitudes of self-interest and work together in a spirit of collaboration and compromise if we hope to combat the growing threat of terrorism and bring greater stability to the world. Spagnoli in his book, Democratic Imperialism: A Practical Guide, agrees with Dark when he states, “Now and again, we have to look beyond the national interest. The human interest and the interest of humanity should become a fixed part of foreign policy…”(p. 100). If nations come together in a truly collaborative spirit then we may, as Kris Manjapra describes in his biography of M.N. Roy, be able to achieve the social order where the best of men could be manifest as Roy desperately hoped for.


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