The internal conflicts within Syria should not be a surprise to anyone, USC Aiken professor Dr. Roger Deal told students and visitors during a panel discussion on campus on Tuesday.
“There is so much destruction, and there are a lot of reasons for that,” said Deal, a history professor. “There was so much political oppression for so long, and it has built up a lot of pressure. When it needed to get out, international involvement started.”
He was joined on the panel by mathematics Chairman Mohammad Hailat and political science professor Dr. Tom Wood. They called their discussion “Disunited Arab Republics: The Ongoing Crisis in Syria and Egypt.”
Syria's discord has drawn headlines throughout the world, especially with the accusations and condemnation for the use of deadly chemical weapons.
Long before that, the government and the president, Bashar al-Assad, have been battling rebels for more than two years with a terrible loss of life from conventional weapons.
China, Russia and Iran are supporting Assad or at least giving him international protection, Wood said, while the West is not intervening as much as it could. The best-case scenarios are not very good, and Syria's civil war could reach into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey for even more instability – a disastrous outcome, Wood said.
In the U.S., it's been hard for President Barack Obama to make a case for intervention, he said.
“Americans are tired of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the outcomes of those wars are not very clear,” Wood said. “The administration is between a rock and a hard place. The president tried to go to Congress, but Americans in the polls have shown no support even for limited intervention.”
Ironically, Wood said Russia, thus far, is looking “rather masterful” with its diplomatic efforts with Syria to remove the chemical weapons.
Yet, “Russia does support the regime with armaments,” said. “A Russian naval base is in Syria, and the Russians don't want to lose that. Their diplomacy disguises their culpability.”
Hailat, who had previous teaching experience in Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, has a different perspective of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He doesn't believe the government used them.
“That would be stupid. Nobody would do it,” Hailat said.
There is no question that chemical weapons were used, he said. Yet a report from United Nations representatives doesn't point fingers at Assad. Hailat said there is reason to consider that rebel factions within Syria meant to send the weapons against government troops.
“But they exploded in their own region. They didn't mean to bomb themselves,” Hailat said.
For now, the opposition to Assad and the government is unified. But if the rebel factions are successful, that unity may not last long.
“What do people want?” Deal said. “They want democracy, but what does that mean? Everybody likes power, but if it's not who they prefer ... democracy fails.”
Deal finds it interesting that Israel has been quiet throughout the issues within Syria and beyond.
“That's by far its best response to the problems of Syria,” Deal said. “As long as the Syrians and others involved don't attempt to bring Israel into it, I'm hopeful that aspect of this will remain stable.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.