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Maryann Cusimano LoveApril 09, 2018
This image released early Sunday, April 8, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, shows a child receiving oxygen through respirators following an alleged poison gas attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian rescuers and medics said the attack on Douma killed at least 40 people. The Syrian government denied the allegations, which could not be independently verified. The alleged attack in Douma occurred Saturday night amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues his horrific killing campaign against his own people. The Syrian civil war is now in its seventh year. Nearly a half million people have been killed in the war. Over half the country’s population has fled the war.

How long can this continue? What are the United States’ options? Last week, President Trump said he would soon be pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. On Sunday, Mr. Trump tweeted that there will be “a big price to pay” for President Assad’s latest chemical attack, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted that “all options are on the table.”

Since the conflict began in 2011, the U.S. government has sent arms to the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime. The C.I.A. has spent over a billion dollars in covert aid to arm and support “moderate” opposition groups, some of which has ended up in the hands of fighters linked to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. President Trump was right to end this program, tweeting he was ending “massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.” But he also criticized the Obama administration for not spending more money on the program.

The U.S. military has carried out missile strikes in Syria for years, first bombing ISIS and then, under the Trump administration, bombing Syrian government targets. The United States currently has about 2,000 troops in Syria, advising opposition forces.

If the United States further escalates its military intervention in Syria, would it make a difference? Would it stop Mr. Assad from killing his own people, end the Syrian civil war and bring better governance to the Syrian people? Catholic tradition on peace and war holds that any action must build a more robust and sustainable peace. Will bombing or putting American “boots on the ground” bring peace to Syria?

No, is the clear answer from our knowledge of insurgencies. Unfortunately, the outlook is grim for the Syrian people. Insurgencies are movements to overthrow a government, to take over control of some or all of the territory of a country or to force a government into sharing power over the disputed territory.

Insurgencies last a long time. The average length of an insurgency is 10 years, while many last much longer. Insurgencies in Colombia lasted for over 40 years. Insurgencies with more than two insurgent groups last longer, are more violent and have more difficult and complicated endings. Insurgents organized in fragmented networks are less likely to succeed in toppling the government.

The Syrian opposition to President Assad is tremendously fragmented, with estimates of 1,000 armed opposition groups. Insurgencies are more likely to succeed against the government in rural, less developed countries, like Afghanistan, where the Taliban continue to fight government forces. Government forces are more likely to win eventually against insurgencies in middle-income, urbanized countries, like Syria.

Governments that are in transition from autocracy to democracy, an anocracy, like Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, have the most difficulty in combating insurgents. Authoritarian governments, like Bashar al-Assad’s, have a better track record of eventually defeating insurgencies. The longer an insurgency lasts, the more likely the government will eventually win.

Governments with consistent external support are more likely to eventually win against insurgencies. President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government are unwavering in their commitment to the Assad regime. Iran and Iraq also support the Syrian government.

Insurgent groups also need external state support (guns and money) to survive, particularly to provide sanctuary for rebel groups, but inconsistent support from other countries may actually hurt insurgencies. Various Syrian opposition groups receive support from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and the United States, but no one could accuse U.S. policy in Syria of being consistent.

Research from past insurgencies suggests the Syrian civil war will continue to be long and bloody and that government forces will likely outlast the insurgents. Increased U.S. military support of the opposition will not change the equation and may do more harm than good.

President Trump is right to want to assist “innocent Syrians” who are victims of “heinous attacks.” There are many ways the United States can help: President Trump can increase U.S. humanitarian aid; accept refugees from Syria; help frontline states Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq minister to the victims; press for humanitarian access corridors so aid can reach the war-torn Syrian population; and press for the implementation of a ceasefire to accompany the start of peace talks.

Pope Francis has called for an end to bloodshed in Syria, for increased “humanitarian assistance” and “a political solution to the crisis.” President Trump is proud of his skills as a “deal maker,” skills that are sorely needed to end this conflict. The president and the pope should use this moment to press for a ceasefire. Even imperfect ceasefires save lives. More bombs will help no one. 

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rose-ellen caminer
6 years 1 month ago

The situation in Colombia did not have a dictator bombing starving populated people in cities for years as Assad has been doing. Assad is engaged IN A HOLOCAUST against Syrian Sunni Muslims. That he can for years use chemical weapons and or starvation and or torture prisons and or barrel bombing of civilians, and all you can talk about isdeflect from what is gfoin on to suffering people by talking about how this is an "Insurgency" and how Insurgency's inevitably fail? That's the salient feature you see going on here? You gotta be kidding me! The world should allow this Stalinist Hitleresque regime to continue the mass murder of Sunni Syrians! This is complicity with genocide. Shame on all so called Christians!
Did you see the cnn documentary about Pope Pius and the Jewish holocaust? How he would never call out Hitler even as Germany invaded Italy and Jews were being rounded up, and even as stories of death camps were circulating to the Vatican! All on the ground that, things could get worse, [for Christians.] This is the same mindset; what's mass murder, of these Semitic Muslim men women children being burned starved, poisoned gassed, bombed when things could get worse if Assad falls.[for Christians]. Where is our humanity , to continue to say "it's complicated.," to continue to smear any opposition to a mass murdering police state dictatorship, as fanatic terrorists? As if therefore all Sunni Syrians can murdered.This is complicity with genocide on the part of you;" its complicated", supporters for Assad's, insisting we allow him to remain in power. Atrocious!
I pray Trump has a moral conscious and does not allow the likes of the its complicated, let Assad stay in power, its not our problem, 21st century anti Semites[ against Sunni Arab/,Muslims this time] get to him! God bless Israel for stepping up; and showing what looks like a moral conscience regarding Assad.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 1 month ago

There is no Syria. And Assad is not killing his people. He is killing his enemy. Neither is a worthwhile group and both are terrorist groups. In the process innocents are being killed.

What there is does not meet any definition of a country but is just a line that has been drawn around some geographic area.

Similarly there is no Syrian people but a conglomerate of various tribes, mostly Sunni.

What is at stake is an attempt at establishing a Shia controlled corridor from Iran to the Mediterrean for regional/global political dominance. This would quickly turn on Israel if established and the north to other Sunni areas.

We have a choice. Let them fight each other there and hopefully won't eventually have to fight them here. Or steer the fight/negotiations towards a stale mate that won't expand.

As usual America, the magazine is out of its depth discussing these topics

rose-ellen caminer
6 years 1 month ago

If innocents are being killed, how are you protecting the innocents? Or is it your position that mankind should stand by as innocents are being killed/Why are you smearing opponents of Assad as terrorists and not worthwhile people? Where does this hatred towards these people being slaughtered come from ? You divide humanity into worthwhile people and not worthwhile people? Human rights, human dignity are not universal truths, that your faith[and your nationality as an American] profess? Opposing a mass murdering dictator makes one a not worthwhile person? Not worthwhile people can be barrel bombed, tortured , starved and genocide along with their children?Is this what you are saying? Do you know any Syrians or you are just repeating a narrative you've been getting from anti Muslim propagandist? You are bearing false witness against your neighbor. That's a sin. You want us to let the Assad regime continue its policy of mass murder of civilian men women and children with poison gas attacks, barrel bombs, tortures ,starvation , etc. How are you any different then, from a supporter of genocide? How are you not a[21st century] Nazi is the real question? What you are saying is very evil and a sin? You are an ignorant man , Cosgrove, smug and glib and ignorant.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 1 month ago

You should read more closely before responding with such negative comments. I love it when commenters here start referring to themselves as virtuous and others as not. The nuns, brothers and priests taught me never to accuse anyone of the things you accuse me of.

There is no way I was supporting Assad though he has been the favorite of the Catholics since he theoretically protected them against the Sunnis. There are no good sides in this fight. Yes there are lots of people caught in between who wish both sides would disappear but if anything the Sunnis have been just as bad or worse in the region.

The real danger is the Shia corridor which I mentioned was being built by Iran with Russia's assistance.

None of this would have been going on if Obama had any coherent foreign policy. The author conveniently ignores this and takes hits at Trump. The Democratic are also to blame for the Russia fiasco which prevents Trump from negotiating with them in any way to end this mess. Russia could end this tomorrow but we cannot talk with them because of the Democrats false fixation on a Russia scandal.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 1 month ago

This just seems like another opportunity to trash Trump. It would have more credence if discussed the culpability of Obama. So consider this another political piece.

Randal Agostini
6 years 1 month ago

If heaven were on earth I would agree with Maryann. We are fallible humans often trying to make the best decision, considering the circumstances. Assad is a monster, as are so many dictators. The only language they understand is force. It has to be more expensive for him in men and materials to abstain from an inhuman action and America has been the only country to consistently respond. It was America that was instrumental in stopping the genocide in the Bosnian war, which brought the perpetrators to justice. It was America that turned a blind eye to Rwanda and their despicable genocide. If we can save innocent lives in Syria it is better that we try and fail than not try at all.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 years 1 month ago

Your Solution: A ceasefire??.....you must be kidding .....the recent chemical attack follows about the 4th or 5th ceasefire that has been broken by Assad.
Your Solution: More Humanitarian Aid ......The broken ceasefire was precisely in place to allow humitarian aid to be delivered and civilians to escape encirclement by the Syrian Army.
It has been years since Pope Francis called upon the world to take action ..to do something to stop Assad.
So if AND when we do something you suggest it's going to be condemned by the same Pope.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 years 1 month ago

Delete repeat

Bill Niermeyer
6 years 1 month ago

Assad’s latest chemical attack! That sentence should never been uttered if Assad was taken out from the beginning. It is time for him to be removed from humanity since he has no use for humanity to begin with. Regardless of religious affiliation he must not be allowed to live. He has crossed the line before, now and he will in the future.

Tim Donovan
6 years 1 month ago

I certainly am not a pacifist, although I respect the convictions of those who are. I favor war only as a last resort, after diplomatic efforts have been exhausted. Civilians must never be deliberately targeted. I agree that humanitarian assistance for the innocent people of Syria must be employed. Although there is no certitude that the dictatorial government of President Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people (his enemies) I believe it's reasonable to assume that he possesses and has used such monstrous weapons. The long ongoing war in Syria has resulted in a huge number of casualties, as well as numerous men, women and children fleeing their homes. I would greatly prefer that diplomatic efforts first be exhausted in an attempt to bring peace. But if and when diplomacy fails, I do believe that our nation as well as France and Britain (which in a report in the Washington Post on April. 9) have pledged to use armed forces against Assad, should engage in air strikes, and then again attempt diplomacy.

Carlos Orozco
6 years 1 month ago

The best thing the US can do in Syria is to get out. Its policy of bloody destabilization and undercover support for radical Salafists, through its proxy Arab monarchies, are true war crimes.

What evidence is there to blame Assad for the latest chemical attack? Russian military intelligence reported some two weeks ago that the al-Qaeda minded opposition had plans to attack civilians and blame the government, in last ditch efforts to stop the wave of victories the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have had in eastern Ghouta against various fanatical groups that still drag the war on.

Why would Assad use chemical weapons agains civilians when he is currently crushing the rebels? Why would he precisely attack the city of Douma when in talks with rebels to let them leave the city with their families? Why use chemical weapons when President Trump speaks of getting out of Syria? It makes no sense.

Once again, the situation stinks false flag. Let's pray President is not stupid enough to follow the neocons he has surrounded himself with to the precipice. Putin is not going to allow Syria to fall because Trump wants to prove his machismo to the manipulative banking-industrial-military complex.

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