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Syria: Headaches and Heartaches

By Paul Sullivan

Syria makes my head hurt and heart ache. More people have died in Syria than in all of the Arab-Israeli wars, and the bloodshed shows no signs of abating. Those who are hoping for the U.S. and its allies to ride in and save the day are kidding themselves.

Why does my head hurt? This is about as complex a situation as one could imagine, combining sectarian, ethnic, economic, political, historical, and other tensions. The whirlpool of Syria has pulled Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union, and the United States into its vortex.

The Shia-Sunni conflict in Syria has spilled into Egypt, where the previously unimaginable murder of Shia clerics occurred last week. This attack was mostly likely spurred on by the statements calling for a jihad in Syria by Sunni extremist figure Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who was once tossed out of Egypt for his dangerous and extremist views by Hosni Mubarak.

You have extremist Shia leaders thrown into the mix, like Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and an entire list of Iranian mullahs firing up the youth to go to war to defend their religious beliefs. The Sunni-Shia conflict, however, seems to be a cloak for far more mundane objectives. Oil, natural gas, water, food, land, jobs, profits, and more are what really make the world and the region go ‘round. Ideology is the sugar with which deceptive leaders coat their calls for murder.

There are regional and global aspects of this that are barely understood even by the experts who have been looking at these situations for decades. In Syria, we can’t tell who’s fighting for whom. Among the rebel ranks are hired guns that move from group to group to make money. Others are extremists that would fit in at a Taliban mountain cookout.

Why makes my heart ache? Take a look at the Save The Children document Childhood Under Fire. I looked at an earlier version when just a few thousand people were killed in Syria. I had to close my office door, hold my head, and weep. I saw the most recent edition earlier this month, and I felt numb with overwhelming emotion looking at the pictures and reading the stories of these suffering children.

This tragedy is about people: 95,000 have died since this time last year. About 5,000 died up to that point. This is not a slow roll war. This is a slaughter. This will cause a multigenerational trauma for children and their children in Syria. How violent will they be in future generations? Bombings are a harsh way to learn about life.

Can the U.S. and others ride in and save the day? John Wayne did this in the movies, but we’re too late for Hollywood timing. Any action now will likely be too little, too late, and too poorly executed. It may even make things far worse.



Paul Sullivan is a professor of economics at the National Defense University, an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, and a columnist for UB Post in Mongolia and Turkiye Gazetesi in Turkey.

*All opinions expressed are those of Paul Sullivan alone.

[Photo courtesy of FreedomHouse]


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