January 23 2014 – Is It Finally Time for Russia to Throw in the Towel?


Was Obama wrong to get involved in Syria?

Is it finally time for Russia to throw in the towel?


            Syria as a country is in the midst of a complicated civil war. The dictator Bashir Al-Assad has held an iron grip on the country for over ten years, supported by the fascist Ba’ath party and it’s Alawite supporters. Then there are the Sunni and the Kurdish Syrians who are against Assad and his segregated favoritism towards the Alawite; and the division doesn’t end there. The rebels are predominantly compromised of two groups: the Sunnis and the Kurds. The Sunnis consist of a pro western, secular group who have established themselves as the “Free Syrian Army” and then there are various pro-Islamist and pro-Al Qaeda jihadist groups [1]. As Syria’s guerrilla warfare grew, President Obama clearly warned that there would be repercussions for the Assad regime if they were caught using any chemical weapons [2]. Despite Obama’s clear opposition to chemical weapons, on August 21, 2013, Assad and his army were responsible for using them on civilians [3]. These weapons are extremely dangerous and can effectively kill vast quantities of people, while leaving the buildings and city structure completely intact. For dictators like Assad who want to quickly and efficiently get rid of a large group of people who don’t support them, chemical weapons are their best friends. The lethalness of these weapons is why Obama threatened Syria not to use them in the first place. Allowing these weapons to be acceptable in foreign nations could potentially make the world a very unsafe place to live. Now that Syria ignored Obama’s initial threat, America must take some form of action against Syria or risk appearing weak [4]. It isn’t just a political grand standing either, backing out on what Obama said could put us in meaningful danger. Doing nothing might inhibit our ability to prevent wars and make us less credible in future negotiations, weakening America’s ability to achieve diplomatic solutions.

Obama’s options are limited. Russia is allies with Syria and has played a major role in keeping the UN from offering support. . It also doesn’t help that many of the United Nations, specifically that of Europe, have been very anti war for quite sometime now [5]. Consequently, invading Syria alone without U.N. support is an option that the government has steered clear of. It would be costly and dangerous, not to mention it has little to no support from Americans. The alternative invading Syria would normally be to supply and arm the opposition [6]; however the opposition is so divided there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do this. Obama’s course of action thus far has been to seek congressional approval for a one-time missile strike on Syrian military assets [7]. This is a solution that may cause the deaths of many innocent civilians but could also potentially prevent the deaths of many more by scaring Assad and his army from further action.

Finally there is the popular opinion that we should do nothing about Syria. There is actually very little evidence in history that supports the idea that backing out on a war threat will affect a nation’s credibility. The University of Washington’s Jonathan Mercer’s even argues against there being any correlation at all between behavior and reputation, in his book, Reputation and International Politics (2010). Mercer argues that the only thing that will scare future enemies is not our statistical record of following through with threats but our perceived military capability [8]. This has been the ongoing struggle of Syria war far thus far however recent news has suggested that compromise could be on the horizon.

As of today however there seems to be hope on the horizon. While no official statements have been made both side of the conflict have agreed to start a discussion that may potentially negotiate an end to the war. Russia has gone as far as to say they would be willing to discontinue support to Assad. China who is another Assad supporter has stressed that, “that all options were under consideration.” Perhaps the last 3 years of suffering will finally come to an end in the near future [9].


Relevance/ Importance:

In class we talk about Agenda setting theory, and how the Media tells us what to think about. Agenda setting theory is the gatekeeping function of the media it’s the idea that the media tells us what is important. When the news of our involvement of Syria came out last year I remember people being outraged. What confuses me is that Looking at old articles have lead me to believe that the opinion leaders of the media argued a much more understanding position on the conflict. According to two-step flow theory opinion leaders generate information to the general public, so why was the climate of opinion so upset at Obama for taking action? With great power comes great responsibility and I hate the idea of war just as much as the next person but that doesn’t make problems go away. Every one of my peers this time last year either didn’t know what was going on in Syria or was angry that we were getting involved. Hate to frank but what are we, Canada? Since when do we have the privilege of staying neutral about world affairs? Probably when Washington was president and we were barley a country, but things are different now. I’m always willing to be proven wrong but I think America has so much power that staying out of conflicts is in a way taking a side in and of its self because we are letting things happen we could prevent.

I also chose this topic because I myself still get confused about the details and I wondered why it’s not more often talked about in my circles. It was talked about briefly last year but then it stopped and I was like wait so what happened? I actually asked several of my friends before writing this entry if they know what happened and not a single one was sure and most didn’t care. Why does no one care? It makes me wonder who the opinion leaders are that control both the majority climate of opinion as well as my demographics climate of opinion. Is news media irrelevant if it’s not on the daily show anymore? My first impulse was to just ask my parents about Syria because I don’t know about you but when my peers fail me my parents have always been my own personal opinion leaders. Then I thought better of it and decided to use this as an excuse to do my own research for my first journal entry.


Trilogy: Information (with a little bit of persuasion).


[1] Friedman, T. L. (2013, September 4). Arm and Shame. New York Times, p. A23. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/04/opinion/friedman-arm-and-shame.html?_r=0

[2] Mathews, D. (2013, September 12). Why Obama shouldn’t care about backing down on http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/12/why-obama-shouldnt-care-about-backing-down-on-syria/

[3] Reals, T. (2013, August 29). Syria Crisis. CBS News. F


[4] Ibid. See Arm and Shame – Freedman

[5] Ibid. See Arm and Shame – Freedman

[6] Klien, E. (2013, September 12). Assad Delivers His Ransom Note. Washington Post, p. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/12/assad-delivers-his-ransom-note/

[7] Ibid. See Arm and Shame – Freedman

[8] Ibid. See Why Obama shouldn’t care about backing down – Mathews

[9] Sengupta K. (2014, January 23) Syria rebels say Russia is prepared to drop Assad. The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-rebels-say-russia-is-prepared-to-drop-assad-9081626.html


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