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Syria and US Foreign Policy. Idean Salehyan Associate Professor of Political Science University of North Texas. Outline. Background Understanding the Syrian war US responses and policy options. Syria Background. Demography: 22.5 Million people Ethnicity: 90% Arab, 9% Kurdish

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syria and us foreign policy

Syria and US Foreign Policy

Idean Salehyan

Associate Professor of Political Science

University of North Texas

outline
Outline
  • Background
  • Understanding the Syrian war
  • US responses and policy options
syria background
Syria Background
  • Demography:
    • 22.5 Million people
    • Ethnicity: 90% Arab, 9% Kurdish
    • Religion: 74% Sunni Islam; 16% Alawi & Shia; 10% Christian
  • History:
    • Ottoman Empire
    • WWI, French Mandate
    • Independence in 1946
syria background1
Syria Background
  • 1963 Ba’athist coup
  • Hafez al-Assad rise to power, 1971
  • Involvement in Lebanon
    • Relationship with Hezbollah
  • Muslim Brotherhood Challenge
    • 1982 Hama Massacre

Hafez al-Assad

bashar al assad
BashAr Al-Assad
  • Born September 11, 1965
  • Studied medicine in the UK
  • Groomed to be president after death of brother
  • Assumes office, 2000 after father’s death
  • Remains close to Iran, Hezbollah
  • Shia ‘revival’
arab spring
Arab spring
  • Peaceful “revolutions”
    • Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen (partial)
  • Successful repression
    • Bahrain
  • Violent revolution
    • Libya
  • Civil war
    • Syria
    • Sectarian nature of the conflict
beginnings of syrian unrest
Beginnings of Syrian Unrest
  • 15 March, 2011. Protests in Damascus, Aleppo, and Daraa.
    • Repression/imprisonment
    • Promises of some reform
  • Failure of Arab League and UN peace plans
  • 25 April, 2011, Siege of Daraa. Hundreds killed
  • Military desertions.
  • Armed clashes begin in June.
opposition forces
Opposition forces
  • Free Syrian Army. Military defectors, led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad
    • Estimates between 10,000-25,000 troops
    • Not a unified movement
  • Local defense groups
  • Al-Nusra Front
    • Foreign Jihadists
  • Kurdish Militias
  • Syrian National CouncilSyrian National Coalition
sectarian conflict
Sectarian conflict
  • Conflict has taken increasingly sectarian tone
  • Assad loyalists include Alawites and Christians
    • Fighting for survival
  • Opposition forces largely Sunni Arab
    • Secular/moderate forces
    • Radical Jihadists
  • Kurdish militias
international spillover
International Spillover
  • 1.3 Million refugees
  • Jordan: 420,000
  • Lebanon: 200,000
  • Turkey: 300,000
  • Iraq: 100,000
us response
US response
  • “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
    • President Obama, August 18, 2011.
  • “Military intervention at this point could hinder humanitarian operations… embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy and uncertain military commitment… bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or proxy war.”
    • -Chuck Hegel, US Sec of Defense. April 13, 2013
us response1
US RESPONSE
  • Policy debate over arming the rebels
  • Strategic ambivalence: “Assad must go, but…”
  • Humanitarian and non-lethal aid only
  • Working through US allies in region
  • No military action
    • Difficulties of identification
    • Uncertain outcome
possible scenarios
Possible scenarios
  • Scenario 1 (best case)
  • Assad steps aside, opposition forces agree on a democratic constitution.

UNLIKELY

possible scenarios1
Possible scenarios
  • Scenario 2
  • Assad’s forces gain the upper hand, crush the insurgency.

UNLIKELY

possible scenarios2
Possible scenarios
  • Scenario 3 (worst case)
  • Assad removed from power by force
  • Fighting between opposition militias, widespread retaliation/cleansing against Alawites
  • Regional forces drawn in

POSSIBLE

possible scenarios3
Possible scenarios
  • Scenario 4
  • Conflict hits a “stalemate”
  • Negotiated settlement including a UN force, security guarantees, eventual elections

NOT ON THE AGENDA BUT SHOULD BE

us response2
US RESPONSE
  • Time to start thinking about peace plan.
  • Negotiations including Assad, opposition forces, regional actors, Russia, US.
  • Potential terms of a deal
    • Assad steps aside
    • Power-sharing constitution between Sunnis, Alawites, and Kurds
    • UN force provides security guarantees, esp for Alawites
    • Military reintegration