NEW YORK – As the US Congress considers whether to authorize American military intervention in Syria, its members should bear in mind a basic truth: While Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has repeatedly used extreme violence to retain power, the United States – and other governments in the Middle East and Europe – share responsibility for turning Syria into a killing field.
These governments, led by the US, have explicitly sought the violent overthrow of Assad. Without their involvement, Assad’s regime would most likely have remained repressive; with their involvement, Syria has become a site of mass death and destruction. More than 100,000 people have died, and many of the world’s cultural and archaeological treasures have been demolished.
Syria’s civil war has occurred in two phases. The first phase, roughly from January 2011 until March 2012, was largely an internal affair. When the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia and Egypt in January 2011, protests erupted in Syria as well. In addition to the usual grievances under a brutal regime, Syrians were reeling from a massive drought and soaring food prices.
The protests became a military rebellion when parts of the Syrian army broke with the regime and established the Free Syrian Army. Neighboring Turkey was probably the first outside country to support the rebellion on the ground, giving sanctuary to rebel forces along its border with Syria. Although the violence was escalating, the death toll was still in the thousands, not tens of thousands.