Syria: the land of war and rumors of war. By now millions of Americans have seen the image of the “Aleppo Boy,” pulling at our heartstrings. As much as we feel “something should be done” in Syria, we need to pay attention to what would “get done.” It seems that the most poignant image of war seen in years is now being used as a justification to ramp up said war.
Television and the internet have been buzzing with the image of Omran Daqneesh. The image is truly horrifying. The measure of carnage in Syria is great. Omran’s suffering is something the world should see. However, Omran’s case is not unique. Not only is it not unique, it seems only to be offering one part of a complicated story. The reason we are seeing Omran’s image is not only for its shock.
Omran Daqneesh was a victim of the siege of Aleppo. Aleppo has been under siege since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011/2012. Aleppo is one of the main non-ISIS rebel areas. Slowly but surely, the rebels have lost ground in Aleppo. Much of the city is controlled by Assad’s forces. The Syrian Army, with Russian air support, have recently increased their offensive lately. The siege has become so intense that there are concerns the rebels will not hold out for much longer. This is where Omran’s image comes in.
It is no accident that Omran has now become the face of the war in Syria. His image isn’t being pushed by the mainstream media without reason. The US government is itching for a fight in Syria. It is also seen as vital for the US not to see its main proxies defeated in Syria. Aleppo has become symbolic, as well as strategic. Pay close attention when pundits say “we have to do something” in relations to Syria. What they mean is we have to go to war in Syria. More specifically, we have to attack the forces of Bashar Al-Assad.
On a base level, it is an extreme irony. Establishment media is using the suffering of Omran Daqneesh to push escalation of the war. Omran was buried in rubble due to the dropping of bombs. How can you then argue we have to stop bombs being dropped by dropping more bombs? How do we create less Omran Daqneeshes in Syria by generating more destruction? The fact that many can’t see this irony is troubling to say the least.
Irony aside, there is a more dangerous component. Syria is a different animal than Libya or Iraq. Syria has become the imperial battleground of the 21st Century. This is more than a civil war at this point. The conflict is a full blown proxy war, waged by several sides with separate interests. Scratching the surface of the Syria conflict is complicated enough.
On one side we have the Syrian government of President Assad with his main allies Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. On the other side there is a fractured group of rebels. It could take an entire article to write about every single rebel group in Syria. The base of the rebels are Syria’s branch of Al Qaeda (Al-Nusra Front), along with several allied Sunni militias. The FSA (Free Syrian Army) is a shell of what it once was, and has allied itself with Al-Nusra. There are also the Kurds in the north. These groups are allied mainly with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. Then there is ISIS, a quagmire in its own right.
The rebels of Syria are a mess. Aside from the fact the US is tactically supporting Al Qaeda and their allies in Syria, these very rebels fight among themselves. There are so many rebel groups, conflict between them is common. On top of that, Kurds are constantly under attack by Turkey. The Kurds are the only major non-Islamist rebel group in Syria, and key tactical US ally. They are under more direct threat from US ally Turkey then by ISIS or Assad.
To sum it up; we have a secular dictatorship fighting against Al Qaeda and the Kurds, who then are also all fighting against ISIS, combined with foreign proxies. Syria is the most confusing conflict imaginable. Anyone claiming this is a black and white issue either doesn’t pay attention or is disingenuous.
We have to understand the conflict in Syria for what it is; a shit-show. There are no good guys in Syria, no easy solutions. When we talk about getting rid of Assad, we can’t avoid discussing who will replace him. We have to be smart about this. The reality is that no major secular force is on the ground in Syria ready to replace Assad.
Assad’s main enemies are Al Qaeda and ISIS. There are the Kurds. However, they are more interested in carving out a Kurdish state in northern Syria as opposed to overthrowing Assad in Damascus. Even if the Kurds did want to liberate all of Syria, it is unlikely Turkey would allow that.
Unless the United States or its allies plan on sending their own troops, forces on the ground will remain fractured. Bombing Assad may destroy his regime, but would an Al Qaeda or ISIS regime in Syria be any better? Would that regime create less Omran Daqneeshes? Probably not. Unless the US Military uses its own ground forces, overthrowing Assad will merely leave a vacuum for something far worse. American attitudes for ground troops in Syria are not high, of course. Then again, when has popular opinion ever stopped policy makers in DC?
We also must discuss the ramifications of conflict with Russia and Iran. The Russian and Iranian militaries are both openly backing Assad. Russia and Iran are Assad’s lifeline. Russia has mainly used its air power in Syria, while Iran has actually sent troops. Assad’s forces are closely linked with Russian and Iranian forces. Attacking Assad’s forces will only lead to confrontation with Russia and Iran, especially with Assad protected by Russian air power. Do we want to risk World War III over Syria? China has also poked its head into the situation, calling for closer ties to the Syrian government.
Syria is a media war as well. Since there are so many factions and interests involved, different narratives emerge. The American narrative has focused mainly on the Assad regime. This is dangerous, however. While Assad is terrible and no one should champion his regime, his replacements are even worse. There is no consideration of what would happen if Assad was toppled, especially by mainstream media.
The media coverage of Omran Daqneesh and Aleppo is also highly biased. Omran is rightfully shown to demonstrate the horrors of the Assad regime. No images, however, of war victims in the areas controlled by the Syrian government. Rebels shell government controlled areas of Aleppo on a daily basis. Just as many fatalities are reported in government areas as with rebel ones. Many gut wrenching images come from that as well. Why does US mainstream media not show those images? Can you make the moral argument suffering on one side of Syria is more important than another?
Families and children suffer at the hands of the rebels as well as the government. While we mourn for Omran Daqneesh, rebel groups in Syria filmed themselves beheading a twelve year old boy. Ironically, the photographer who snapped the now famous image of Omran has ties to the same rebel group responsible for the beheading. Whose suffering is more worthy of concern? Is it worse to bomb a child as opposed to beheading them? Can we use suffering to justify further destruction and death in a land we know little about?
American war mongers are using the pain of Syria to push for an intervention in Syria. The mainstream media is going along, as usual. Be wary of those appealing to your emotions. This is especially true if they are arguing for a US intervention to topple Assad. Syria is possibly the most nuanced conflict in history. There are no right sides or right answers. We all feel pain for the people of Syria. We have to be smart, however. We can’t use the horrors of war to argue in favor of more war.