Syria and the Responsibility (or lack of) to Protect
Syria and the Responsibility (or lack of) to Protect

It is increasingly clear to us now that the Arab Spring is more than just a seasonal predilection for change, and the area of effect for this phase in world history is much wider than just the Arab region.  The Middle East, a place that has never quite been known for its stability, has had a dangerous volatility spike in the past few years, with no set judgment call being made about the productiveness or destructiveness of the movement as a whole.  As far as the destructiveness is concerned, though, no people presently know this better than the Syrians.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll has now reached 110,371 people since the conflict began in March of 2011 (Syria Death Toll: More than 110,000 Dead In Conflict, NGO Says, 2013).  Of these casualties, 4,000 are said to be women and 5,800 are said to be children.  Furthermore, the number of Syrians displaced by the conflict has reportedly reached seven million – or about one third of the population (Aji, 2013).

Though the conflict has been going on for some time, the world has essentially waited and watched from a safe distance.  Since the beginning, however, politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens have disagreed about what exactly the U.S. role should be in the conflict.  Does the U.S. have the responsibility to protect the Syrian people living under dire conditions?  Or should the U.S. remain disentangled from the conflict for fear of creating another war that costs American lives and money?

There seems to be no consensus on the issue, but a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that fifty-six percent of those surveyed were against intervention in Syria, while nineteen percent supported action (Sullivan, 2013).  This poll follows the beginning of the Obama administration’s push for support of a limited military invention in the region.

Why did President Obama finally speak out on the issue?  According to his speech, one of the major factors was the use of the neurotoxin sarin that killed 1,400 people (Gordon and Calmes, 2013).  “What we are envisioning is something limited.  It is something proportional.  It will degrade Assad’s capabilities,” Obama said of his plan in response to the use of nuclear weapons, and further that he “[has] a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition” (Mason and Bayoumy, 2013).  That being said, however, Obama’s speech did not suggest that he was making this decision unilaterally, but instead that he would defer to Congress to approve his plan.

Unsurprisingly, the Syrian government was not pleased by the administration’s call for military action in support of the rebels, but they viewed the decision to turn to Congress as a sign of weakness.  Al Thawra, a state-run newspaper, called Obama’s course of action, “the start of the historic American attack” (Gordon and Calmes, 2013).  This was meant to suggest that America was using extreme caution because of a lack of global support,  which was undoubtedly a reference to America’s closest ally, the UK. Members of UK parliament recently shot down a proposal by Prime Minister David Cameron that aimed to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons against its people (Syria Crisis: Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action, 2013).

The conflict in Syria is definitively a civil war, but the impact of the violence spreads throughout the globe.  Other threats lurk in the background with the possibility of pushing Syria’s trajectory in a dangerous direction.  From Lebanon, Hezbollah has put its support behind Assad’s regime and has already sent thousands of fighters to assist the Syrian government on key front lines (Wood, 2013).  The United States has also become involved as a new covert plan made earlier this month has come to light, and the CIA is expected to provide lethal assistance to the rebels with President Obama’s authorization (Entous, Barnes, Gorman, 2013).  Furthermore, Cameron’s proposal – though a failure – highlighted Europe’s concern with the region as well.

The fate of the Syrian civil war undoubtedly affects the Syrian people the most, but the future of the country has the potential to affect regions far beyond the Middle East.  Naturally, though, the American people may be hesitant to send troops and entangle themselves in another Middle Eastern conflict in the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan.  That being said, Syria brings up large questions of conscience, morality, and the global responsibility to protect.

Do we mind our own business and refuse to entangle ourselves in a conflict that could be costly financially and put American lives at risk?  The moral implications of that seem to be dangerous as a precedent to future international relations.  However, would it be better to get involved when we do not know what the outcome of our actions will be?  Extremist factions are involved on both sides of the conflict, and U.S. actions have the possibility of bringing progress to the region – or introducing a substantial amount of chaos.

With all that in mind, the 110,371 dead Syrian men, women, and children would have liked a more decisive course of action… a little earlier.

Works Cited

Aji, A. (2013, September 2). UN: 7 million Syrians displaced by civil war. Yahoo! News. Retrieved from:

Assad denies responsibility for Damascus chemical attacks. (2013 September 2). RTE News. Retrieved from:

Barnard, A. & Mullany, G. (2013, September 1). In Syria, anger and mockery as Obama delays plan. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Ben Solomon, A. (2013, September 2). Arab allies of US exasperated by Western stance on Syria. Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from:

Craggs, R. (2013, September 1). Syria death toll: more than 110,000 dead in conflict, NGO says. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

Entous, A, Barnes, J.E. & Gorman, S. (2013, June 26). U.S. begins shipping arms for Syrian rebels. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from:

Gordon, M. R., & Calmes, J. (2013, September 1). President seeks to rally support for Syria strike. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Mason, J. &  Bayoumy, Y. (2013, September 3). Obama wins backing for Syria strike from key figures in Congress. Yahoo! News. Retrieved from:

Sullivan, A. (2013, September 3). U.S. public opposes Syria intervention as Obama presses Congress. Reuters. Retrieved from:

Syria Crisis: Cameron loses commons vote on Syria action. (2013 August 30). BBC News. Retrieved from:

Warrick, J. (2013, September 1). Even after 100,000 deaths in Syria, chemical weapons attack evoked visceral response. Washington Post. Retrieved from:

Wood, J. (2013, September 10). Hezbollah rolls the dice in Syria. Al Jazeera America. Retrieved from:

* Picture of Aleppo, Syria:

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