Assad must go?

Opinion by Terence Zhao
Oct. 22, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

In 2011, when the Syrian disaster was just ramping up, President Obama declared that “Bashar al-Assad must go.”  

Now, after four years, more than 11 million displaced and 300,000 dead later, it is high time for us to consider: Why?

We called for Assad to leave when the protests began and when they began to escalate; we roared in outrage for him to leave when he used chemical weapons. We praise the protesters, bomb Assad’s forces, pour in money and weapons, even talk from time to time about sending boots on the ground… At every development and every escalation we called for Assad to leave — and certainly, using chemical weapons on one’s own people, for example, is unacceptable behavior and valid grounds for wanting him out. But, what never gets talked about is this: What do we do after Assad actually does leave?

I am not here to defend Syria’s oppressive dictator. But, like it or not, Assad is still the head of Syria’s government. So, when America attacks Assad, it is dismantling the very government institutions that hold the country together and keep it from falling into anarchy. Instead of trying to democratize Syria’s government, America simply demolished it, and expected something good to come out of the chaos that followed.

There’s a myth that American intervention is a miracle cure that can transform dictatorships into democracies in an instant, and we fall for it again and again. When we invaded Iraq and systematically dismantled Saddam Hussein’s government, we spent a decade and a trillion dollars attempting to rebuild Iraq’s political institutions to, obviously, very limited success. In both countries, the U.S. performed wholesale removals of entire regimes, and left behind massive power vacuums that provide fertile breeding ground for militant groups, notably ISIS, allowing them to strive amidst the anarchy unchecked. And for all of Assad’s faults, the situation in Syria today is magnitudes worse than it was under his rule.

Of course, America has an ulterior motive for wanting Assad gone. After all, Assad’s Syria is a major ally of Russia, and it would serve American interests to have a more pro-U.S. Syrian regime. But, all foreign policy goals need to be pursued responsibly, and it is irresponsible — and preposterous — to think that America could simply barge into Syria (or Iraq, for that matter), indiscriminately destroy the institutions that serve as the guarantors of stability for the country and the region and then somehow emerge with new, equally stable regimes. Just because America is the world’s only superpower and has tremendous global power and influence doesn’t mean it could automatically and always get its way, and it is high time that we, as a country, recognize that in Syria.

In Syria, it has been our strategy to supply and train “moderate” rebel groups, which were supposed to be both anti-Assad and anti-Islamist. When the civil war first began heating up, the U.S. backed a group called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as the official opposition. Yet, even at its peak, the FSA included both actual moderates and Islamists (who increasingly defected over time with their American weapons). It was also an ineffectual and loose coalition of ragtag forces whose central command had little control of operations on the ground. And, more importantly, it has long ceased to exist as an operational military. The “moderates” talked about today are the remnants of the FSA and are, again, not necessarily actually moderate. And the fighters that we’re training? In early October, the Obama Administration abandoned training brigades of fighters because they have essentially been completely wiped out in the fighting.

And does anyone really believe the preposterous notion that we should dismantle Assad’s government, and put this motley crew of fighters in charge of restoring peace to Syria and rebuilding it into a vibrant democratic nation?

I am neither pro-Putin nor pro-Assad. I don’t know what Putin plans to do in Syria, and I don’t imagine it would necessarily be helpful, and I do not take the pro-Assad-Iranian-Russian side in the war.

But I also do not take the American side, and neither should anyone else, for one simple reason: We don’t have a side. Our side is completely unviable. Our side, in terms of fighters trained by the U.S., has all of “four or five” guys in it, according to the Pentagon’s own admission. And as long as we continue to arrogantly prop up our nonexistent side and believe that it will somehow beat Assad, ISIS and al-Qaeda all at once, peace will continue to elude us. For all its pro-democratic pomp, the U.S. intervention in Syria has failed, and it is time that we focus on something more helpful than “Assad must go,” such as actually restabilizing Syria and the region, and ending the worst humanitarian disaster of our lifetime.


Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ 

Terence Zhao '19 originally hails from Beijing, China, before immigrating to the US and settling in Arcadia, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. He is majoring in Urban Studies, and promotes the major with cult-like zeal. In his spare time, he likes to explore cities and make pointless maps.

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