Why don't we let the Syrian people decide?
I know it's all the fashion in politics today to call for regime change in Syria, and who doesn't like the idea of yet another chaotic, Mad Max-style failed state, amirite?
But I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy, and one of those old-fashioned ideas is that people should chose their own government. I know that self-determination is out of style in mainstream Democratic circles, but humor me anyway.
The question is: How do we determine what the Syrian people want?
Syria had an election in 2014, but that was mostly a joke. After all, the election didn't happen in much of the country because the civil war made that impossible.
So how can we determine what the Syrian people want if you can't hold a fair election?
Actually there is a way.
The Syrian people have consistently "voted" with their feet, and since their lives depended on it, this vote matters a lot more than any checked box.
An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. Now, in the sixth year of war, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. Among those escaping the conflict, the majority have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria.
So most Syrian refugees never actually flee Syria. Where do they flee to in Syria? Government-controlled areas.
Although nobody has exact figures on the whereabouts of the internally displaced people, or IDPs, aid officials and nongovernmental organizations say the vast majority have sought shelter in areas controlled by the government of President Bashar Assad.
“There is no doubt that many, many more displaced people are on the government side than on the opposition side,” Krzysiek said...
Nearly 80 percent of those displaced by the war within Syria have fled to government-held parts of the country, a European diplomat said. Less than a quarter have chosen the side controlled by the various rebel groups, said the diplomat, who could not be named under his nation’s standing rules.
“This probably also shows where their political preferences lie,” he said.
That in no way means that all those IDPs like the Assad government. It's probably true that a significant percentage of the IDPs want Assad gone.
However, what we know for absolute certainty is that this is an overwhelming vote against the rebel forces that would take over if we overthrew Assad.
“Once the policy people look at what the day after would be — they don’t see any options,” said Josh Landis, the director of the Center For Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “The two strongest militias in Syria are Al Qaeda and ISIS, which would undoubtedly profit and would move into Damascus, were the Assad regime to be destroyed.”
Landis said that any gains made by rebel groups would inevitably lead to sectarian violence against minorities, and would have dire humanitarian consequences for the 15 million people who currently live in Assad-controlled territory.
Rebel violence has particularly affected Syria’s minorities, like Christians and Alawites — a Shia sect that Assad belongs to — as well as Sunnis from pro-government areas, who have been perceived as supporting Assad...
“We’ve seen that wherever rebel militias have taken Alawite or Christian regions,” Landis said, “the Alawites flee within 24 hours. There are no Alawites left, or else they’re taken captive. And Christians are gone. … That’s what’s most likely to happen in the rest of Syria if the Syrian army were destroyed.”
It seems bizarre to see Christian Republicans in America applauding a Syrian policy that would result in the extermination of Christians in Syria.
It seems bizarre to see liberals in America applauding a Syrian policy that would result in the extermination of minorities in Syria.
As for the rebel fighters, a lion's share of them aren't even Syrian, so I don't think their vote should count.
When will we stop pretending that we are acting with the interests of the Syrian people?