Sample Essay on Hillary’s Iraq: Syrian Civil War

Hillary’s Iraq: Syrian Civil War

Historical background to the conflict

The genesis of the war in Syria has a long and protracted history. At the end of the First World War, France was granted a mandate over the northern portion of the province of Syria which was previously under the Ottoman Empire. The area therefore remained under French administration until 1946 when Syria gained independence form France. From the very onset, Syria lacked political stability, prompting the development of a successive of military coups in its first two decades of independence. In February 1958, Syria united with Egypt, effectively forming the United Arab Republic. However, union between the two entities was short-lived, culminating in their imminent separation in September 1961 (The World Factbook, 2010). This separation paved way for the reestablishment of the Syrian Arab Republic. The country was still highly unstable politically. Ironically, Syria would find political stability in November 1970 through a bloodless coup instigated by Hafiz-al-ASAD, a member of the minority Alawi sect the socialist Ba’th Party.  In 1967, Syria went to war with Israel over the Golan Heights, and lost. Syria was involved in occasional peace talks with Israel well into the 1990s over the return of Golan Heights. After President al-ASAD died, a referendum was held in July 2000, in which Bashar-al-Assad, son to the late president was approved as president.   In April 2005, president Bashar al-Assad withdrew Syrian troops who had been on a supposed peace keeping mission in Lebanon since 1976. Between July and August 2006, Israel and Hizballah were embroiled in a conflict, prompting Al-ASAD to place Syria’s military forces on high alert and while the country was a key ally of Hizballah, it did not make a direct intervention.

In May 2007, another popular referendum approved Bashar al-Assad’s presidency for a second term. The Arab Spring that started in Tunisia and quickly spread to other parts in the region also influenced antigovernment protests in Syria. This happened in March 2011, specifically in the country’s southern province of Dar’a.  Protesters advocated for the abolishment of the retraining Emergency Law that permitted arrests without charge.   They also demanded that corrupt officials be removed from office, and the legalization of political parties. Assad resorted to military force in an effort to suppress the protestors who were clearly opposed to the ruling regime. Ever since, the state of unrest and demonstrations has spread to virtually all cities in Syria, albeit with fluctuating intensity and size. The Assad regime applied a mix of concessions in response to the unrest, including approving new laws that legalized political parties. The Emergency Law was also repealed, as well as the liberalization of both local and national elections. However, the government was also using force to quell the violence, a move that prompted the international community to enforce sanctions on the country. President Assad also came under increased pressure to resign. The opposition in Syria is also not satisfied with the concessions made by the Assad regime (The World Factbook, 2010). They too have been involved in widespread armed activities and the ruling regime’s security operations aimed at ending unrest have only resulted in protracted violent clashes between the two camps. The Assad regime has experienced expanded economic sanctions from Turkey, the Arab League, the United States, and the EU (European Union). However, peace talks on the Syrian crisis have been ongoing since October 2012 when the Arab League and the United States initiated peace talks with the goal of brokering a cease-fire. By 2013, the death toll in the Syrian crisis topped 100,000. In January 2014, the UN sponsored peace talks between Syrian regime and the Opposition Coalition in Geneva. So far, all negotiations for peace have proven unsuccessful but the Assad regime and opposition parties have renewed peace talks which began in February 2016 at the Geneva Peace Conference (Miles et al., 2016).

  1. Theoretical positions
  2. Conventional view – liberalism (specifically “institutional transnationalism”)

Discussions on the Syrian civil war have dominated local, regional, and international news. Consequently, it such labels as “internal”, “domestic” or “interstate” have widely been used to describe it (Salehyan, 2006). However, a closer assessment of the Syrian conflicts from a historical context indicates a far more complicated picture compared to explanations given based on domestic-level analysis alone.   Kalyvas (2003) contends that the Syrian conflict is characterized by ambiguous dynamics, diverse collective and competing private behaviors and interests, as well as myriad identities. These characteristics offer a basic structure of most civil wars. Kaldor (1999), in her thesis noted that civil conflicts as witnessed in modern states are usually organized transnationally by diverse non-state actors who develop and demand identities that seem attractive to common interests of i “loosely-coupled” groups and individuals without interferences from state constraints and structures.  Kaldor’s sentiments have been echoed by a 2006 empirical study conducted by Salehyan which sought to examine the nature of violent civil conflicts that took place between 1951 and 1999. The analysis of this empirical study disclosed that most of the rebel “transnational insurgents” have frequently outlined territories far removed form their target states in an effort to mobilie their activities and to sustain them too (Salehyan, 2006).

The relative independence and location of actors described by both Salehyan and Kaldor aid in the development of cross-border networks whose goals s to mobilize, raise, and secure resources to fund political projects organized by the opposition.  Diasporas play a key role in this transnational phenomenon, based on the findings of a World Bank study which has linked this group with sustaining and stoking civil conflicts (Collier & Hoeffler, 2000). Wayland (2004) contends that activities of the Diaspora group may explain the persistence and intensity of ethno-political conflicts. Gleditsch (2007) has also undertaken an empirical study in which he identifies a close link between transnational ethnic ties and the onset of civil war.  According to Shain (2002), these psychological affinities and ethnic ties that Diasporas attach to their motherland propel them to sustain, engage in, and exacerbate homeland conflict. Koinove (2011) has also undertaken a study to examine Diaspora radicalization and mobilization in secessionist conflicts and her research findings back this correlation.

These scholars though their diverse but related studies argue that it would be unbefitting to view civil war from a domestic lens seeing as its recurrence and the risks associated with the conflict is determined by numerous processes and participants far removed from the sovereign territory where the conflict is to be found (Shain, 2002). Accordingly, having established that Diaspora mobilization as a transnational phenomenon is a key requirement for the onset and recurrence of conflict we need to question the extent to which Syria’s civil war can be termed internal. Also, there appears to be no end in sight for the Syria’s civil war, as evidenced by the escalation in internal displacement and violence, leading to a significant rise in cross-border dispersal of Syrian citizens, opposition activists included (UNHCR, 2014). This prompts us to question what more could be in store for Syria. For example, we need to ask ourselves if Syria’s civil war shall result in a proliferation in transnational political activism, if it will increase the possibility of a likely sustainable political settlement, or whether it will expand, prolong, and exacerbate the conflict.

As the civil conflict in Syria escalate policy makers and scholars alike have now turned their attention to transnational opposition groups that covet political violence as well as the response by states to the security risks posed by these groups (Koinova, 2011). In the meantime, these policy makers and scholars seem to have sidelined the National Coalition of Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, a key political opposition groups in Syria, and its role in spiraling conflict in the country. It is important not to ignore this issue for a number of reasons.  To begin with, the existing scholarly literature has established a relationship between homeland conflicts and Diaspora mobilization. Militant groups along with their opponents have never viewed participation in and facilitation of violent conflict as their exclusive domain. This second argument strikes a chord with the findings of a study conducted by Fiona Adamson, in which identifies the process of formation and mobilization being common among non-violent and violent groups. She further notes that a certain group could interchange or integrate violent and non-violent tactics and frames as part of its strategy to mobilize and secure international resources and support in order to realize certain political goals (Bercovitch, 2007).

Based on these findings, we could categorize all transnational political groups that are involved in the Syrian civil conflict as constituting a “broader category of non-state political entrepreneurs”, with each group executing different “repertoires of contention” and strategies (Bercovitch, 2007). The study by Adamson has demonstrated the importance of broaden the scope of study over and above the role of militant groups to encompass the various opposition groups who not only advocate for the conflict, but also exacerbate it. Viewed at from this perspective, this would imply that we now start viewing the NSC (National Coalition of Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces) as occupying a central position in Syria’s transnational mobilization processes, and to also examine the extent of the causes and consequences of escalating this conflict (Goodman, 2006).



  1. Alternative theories?

Humanitarian intervention/or humanitarian imperialism?

The idea of “humanitarian imperialism” that Jean Bricmont advances concisely captures a predicament that has faced the Western intellectual community and Western leaders, drawing as far back as the collapse of the Soviet Union. This concept states that Western states have duty to intervene in a state’s internal affairs to ensure the protection of the human rights of ordinary citizens. However, from a legal perspective, humanitarian intervention presents a formidable challenge to global order. Government officials and academicians have for long been embroiled in discourses on the possible exploitation of a humanitarian exception by states to warrant military aggression. Advocates of decriminalizing humanitarian intervention have resisted opposition that their suggestion is likely to be abused as an excuse for war (Bercovitch, 2007). The dominant disquiet about pretext wars triggers suppositions about state opportunism, as well as the apparent legitimacy and power of law in regulating state behavior.  Dealing with this uses necessitates a better understanding of the empirical patterns that characterize interstate hostilities, along with the influence exerted by international institutions on state behavior.

As far back as the Second World War, international law forbid states form using force or threatening, save in the event that they have been authorized to do so by the UN Security Council, or if they are doing so in self-defense. While some scholars have their misgivings regarding this issue (Gleditsch, Christiansen & Hegre, 2007), there is no denying that international law prohibits the independent use of force in a bid to rescue citizens of a state faced with a humanitarian calamity.  Even the UN Charter does not excuse Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention from exclusion on using force, an interpretation that has also received the backing of prominent UN General Assembly resolutions.

Since February 2011, the Syrian people have endured one of the most severe human sufferings in recent memory, an indication that the crisis calls for international intervention. However, the international community has done little in the way of assisting and protecting civilians who are getting injured, killed, bereaved, brutalized, impoverished, or displaced by the conflict. The UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs has described the civil war in Syria as influencing untold suffering on ordinary men, women, and children (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2014). By December 2013, about 9.3 million people in Syria were in need of humanitarian assistance. The Oxford Research Group produced a damning report in December 2013 which revealed that children below the age of 18 constituted 10% of all civilian deaths recorded in Syria (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2014). However, both regional and international human rights groups including the UN Security Council have so far failed to pacify the waring factions in Syria.

Syria is thus a classic example of “humanitarian intervention” in decline that has also been witnessed in other war-torn nations such as Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Kosovo (Cartalucci, 2015). When the UN adopted the R2P (Responsibility to Protect” in 2005, this was in response to failed humanitarian intervention is Rwanda and Srebrenica. R2P is an action framework consisting of three pillars aimed at halting or preventing mass atrocities. The first pillar recognizes states as responsible entities in protecting their population against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. The second pillar recognizes the responsibility of the international community in assisting other states realize the aforementioned responsibilities. The third pillar recognizes that the international community should deem it as their responsibility to assume decisive and timely collective action and if need be, military action, in the event that a state is seen to fail in its responsibility of protecting its citizens (Goodman, 2006).

Although the R2P has delineated clear obligations for both states and the international community in the event of mass atrocities, this concept does not change anything. However, one of the fundamental aspects of the R2P is that even in the absence of a political consensus for forceful intervention, civilians needs to be assisted and protected at all costs (18). While the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council can wage war on a rogue state in a bid to protect ordinary citizens purely on humanitarian grounds, in the event that this does to happen, at the very least, they should insist that such states abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, and spell out clear measures on how this can be realized, such as ensuring that civilians have been evacuated form war zones. Of granting humanitarian workers, the freedom to access war zones where civilians may be trapped. In the case of Syria however, the humanitarian dimension appears to have been marginalized.

The recent immigration crisis in Europe underscores the importance of humanitarian intervention in war-torn states as a means of safeguarding the lives of displaced citizens. We can identify two categories of scholars based on their divergent views on the relationships between democracy, military interventions, and promotion of human rights. Those who advocate for intervention (for instance, Brooks 2012) hold strong sentiments in favor of military interventions in order to overthrow tyrannical regimes, promote human rights or common citizens, and save the innocent lives of individuals who favor democracy. The pro-intervention scholars recognize interventions as the most effective and best means of brining democracy to authoritarian states. Similar sentiments have also been echoed by Murdie and Davis (2010) who note that even though humanitarian peace keeping interventions in societies characterized by civil unrest might be problematic, they can potentially lead to enhanced human rights conditions and respect for human rights through mediation attempts. On the other hand, the anti-intervention camp (for example, Bellin 2005; Gleditsch et al., 2007; Meernik et al 2006) exclude any positive associations between human rights, promotion of democracy, and interventions based on the argument that third-party interventions are detrimental to peace building and reconciliation processes in target states. Peksen (2012), in a quantitative study, revealed that target states resort to the use of force against their citizens, thereby yielding negative effects on human rights conditions.  The anti pro-intervention debate emerged following NATO’s plan to overthrow the Gaddafi regime in Libya.

Turkey has been housing Syria refugees in state-funded camps after it initiated an “open door” policy. This move constitutes part of a long-standing strategy to develop “safe havens” in Syria, especially in the northern part, ostensibly to facilitate invasion and occupation of Syrian territory by NATO plans by the united states to create “buffer zones” in northern Syria began in 2012, even prior to the emergence of a real crisis (Cartalucci 2015). Another strategy for handling this crisis would be to pursue diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing to and end violence, and to facilitate humanitarian access. Inevitably, such an approach would have necessitated limited military power. However, such a move would renegade the goals of the international community, especially the United States, over Syria, effectively implying that Assad remains in power.

Given that the Syria crisis has reached proportionate levels, it is time that the international community made a timely intervention into the crisis.  One of the likely possibilities is to embark on a NATO-based military intervention. Article Five of NATO justifies such an intervention by noting that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” (Knapp, 2012).  However, such an intervention is likely to result in utter failure owing to several important factors. To begin with a NATO military attack on Syria would likely fail to contain the violence and instead, escalate the war into a sectarian war by drawing in other countries like Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan. In addition, a military attack would result in significantly more deaths of NATO forces and Syrians.  A military strike led by the West would also not go down well with the Muslim countries in the region, further inflaming ethnic conflict.

Recent “humanitarian” interventions

The aftermath of a NATO-led “humanitarian intervention” in Libya is perhaps the main reason why such an approach should not be replicated in Syria. In this case, NATO forces took advantage of the 1973 UN Security Council Resolution that was instrumental in the establishment of the “no fly zone” concept in bombing government positions, thus resulting in coerced change of regime. In 2011, NATO initiated a humanitarian military intervention in Libya, a move that has been hailed by its advocates as a model for the execution of the R2P norm. In the case of Libya, the R2P norm was deemed necessary based on the argument that it helped to avoid an imminent bloodbath in Bengazi, in addition to aiding in the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi and his repressive regime (Kuperman, 2013), who was rumored to have targeted peaceful civilian protestors. NATO’s “humanitarian intervention” in Libya received the backing of Western intelligence agencies, key among them being the MI6 and the CIA, plunging Libya into utter chaos.  This “humanitarian intervention” turned Libya which at the time boasted on the highest living standard in the continent, into what MacMillan (2015) describes as a failed state without leadership, structure and cohesion. Critics of the invasion of Libya argue that the only goal that NATO had in mind was to change the ruling regime through forceful means, even as the Western establishment promulgated the inverted narrative that the intervention in Libya was justified on humanitarian grounds.  Kuperman (2015) identifies flaws in the manner in which violence in Libya prior to and following NATO’s action was portrayed, with revelations emerging that the intervention failed. For example, the intervention saw the death toll increased by between seven and ten times what it was before, while the war increased by a timeline that was six times what it had been. Besides, reports of humanitarian suffering and exacerbated human rights abuses have also emerged. There has also been a proliferation in the number of weapons smuggled across Libya and neighbors, while Islamic radicalism has increased. These are clear indication that if this touted “model interventions” was to be implemented in Syria it would be a recipe for failure.

Current non-interventions

We have quite a number of states where mass atrocities of civilians have been documented although “humanitarian” interventions have not yet been implemented. Considering the recent developments in Libya, perhaps it would be a good idea to consider other options. Yemen is one such state that has experienced horrendous violence, prompting the government to request for military assistance from the Saudis.  The military intervention was occasioned by a request made by President Hadi to protect the country and its people from destructive aggression perpetrated by the Houthi. Even as some states like the UK, the United States, Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt have responded to this request and rendered their support, the UN has largely reclaimed a passive bystander. These interventions are justified based on the deliberations of Article 51 of the UN Charter which backs military interventions to facilitate collective self-defense (Rees, 2015). However, various entities have found a way to circumvent the provisions of Article 51 in a bid to justify their decision to wage war on a state where massive atrocities have been reported. The same justification was used in Iraq to attack the ISIL, and has lately been replicated in Syria. Such an approach only escalates tension between waring factions, leading to an increase in the number of civilian causalities and deaths.  Bahrain and Qatar were also not immune to the after-math of the 2011 Arab Spring and while “humanitarian intervention” was never implemented, a key lesson from these crises is that like was the case in Libya, such a move would have made the situation worse that it already was.


            Syria’s civil war has a long and protracted history.  While there is enough justification to warrant “humanitarian intervention” given the mass atrocities committed thus far. Sooner or later, the UN will take an active interest in this issue but considering that this never worked in Iraq, Libya and countless other states, there is need to consider a humanitarian and human rights solution, as opposed to military intervention. In this case it is important to deploy UN peacekeepers along Syria’s borders. The R2P doctrine appears to have been designed especially for a crisis of this nature and as such, its implementation should be hastened.


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