Why is the War in Syria Still Going On?

The war in Syria began more than two years ago in March of 2011 as a mass uprising against a police state. At least 80,000 have died — an American woman from Michigan is among the most recent casualties — and an estimated 1.6 million Syrians have fled the country and sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries.

This past Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced that his country has obtained weapons from Russia and warned that he would respond to any Israeli air strikes with the same. In the interview broadcast by Al-Manar television (which is owned by Lebanon-based Hezbollah), Assad was “vague” about whether those weapons include an advanced missile system. On Friday, the U.S. and Germany called on Russia not to supply Syria with such weapons, for fear of prolonging, and broadening, a conflict that has lasted far longer than foreign leaders had predicted.

Online videos show self-described rebel forces capturing military outposts and seizing weapons, but they have — in contrast to the Libyan rebels who early on held Benghazi and all of the east, as well as Misrata in the west — gained hold of only one of 14 provincial capitals, writes long-time Middle East observer Patrick Cockburn.

Indeed, from the start it has been exceedingly difficult to get a clear view about what exactly has been happening on the ground in Syria. It has also been unclear who exactly is among the insurgents, what military successes they have had and whether some have committed atrocities, some of which were broadcast on YouTube, such as a recent video of a man cutting out the heart of a dead Syrian soldier and eating it.

In the past six months, Assad has withdrawn troops from outlying areas and focused on buttressing the capital of Damascus and other major population centers, as well as the routes to them. In the meantime, the Syrian opposition, which has been fragmented since the beginning, has “stumbled towards ever more serious disarray,” according to the New York Times. Internal disputes in the coalition — whose 63 members are mainly comprised of long-exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood, academics who have lived outside the country for decades and political activists who have recently fled Syria  – have led to it planning to boycott a United Nations peace conference that will occur in upcoming weeks.

The toll on Syrians has been immense. Women and children comprise 78 percent of the refugees in Lebanon, due to the numerous casualties in the conflict; many men have remained in Syria to fight, says the United Nations HCR. The result is that “the majority of Syrian refugees are also the most vulnerable” and reports of sexual harassment and assault of women and girls are common.

Families are also marrying girls, some as young as 14, to far older men, for economic reasons and for security. Kecia Ali, a professor of religion at Boston University who specializes in issues of gender-based violence, describes the girls’ families as choosing the lesser of two evils in marrying them at such young ages: “Those who are being victimized…specifically by early marriage; are sometimes being victimized in order to shelter them from other forms of victimization.”

The Syrian conflict has evolved to recall the protracted civil wars in Lebanon and Iran, writes Cockburn, and one that seems inevitably poised to unsettle the entire region. At another level, the war in Syria is turning into a “reborn Cold War confrontation,” setting the West against China and Russia and disrupting the lives of thousands of Syrians who now find themselves living in tents in countries not their own.


Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Judith C.
Judith C2 years ago


Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Wars are not answers to problems. This one,however inhumane, is A CIVIL WAR (definition: a war between opposing groups of citizens OF THE SAME COUNTRY, between political factions or regions WITHIN THE SAME COUNTRY).

Having so stated, if we (the United States)strike, are WE not then the aggressors in THEIR country, justifably provoking retaliation?

From what I see, we the people, in large majority don't want Congress, who works for us by the way, giving this President, clearly inept in military and basically all other managerial skills, a green light to go ahead with HIS decision, if he ever settles on one.

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Missed opportunity, now too late to rectify.

Linda F.
.3 years ago

Syria is a destination and transit country for women and children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. the government does not offer protection services to victims of trafficking and arrests and prosecutes victims

Sheila Dillon
GGmaSheila D3 years ago

Once again women are the victims in a world gone insane with wars.

Fi T.
Fi T3 years ago

When can human conflict stop?

Amandine S.
Past Member 3 years ago

Sadly noted.

Milan L.
Milan L3 years ago

"... poised to unsettle the entire region. ... " ??? Does anyone remember a time when that region was not "unsettled" ?

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

Nick, thank you for your wonderfully useless and childish comments. Whether Obama sucks or not, how about contributing some useful information? Many more nations are clandestinely involved in Syria than the US. Perhaps you could comment on my posting from @ 7:26. Just making dumb remarks isn't very illuminating or helpful. This forum is here to try to solve and understand problems not to express your personal grudges.