Our problems in Syria have only just begun

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After government airstrikes in Douma, Syria, last month. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

By Max Saltman, Staff Writer

Any time I talk to someone about Syria and any kind of American intervention there, I usually hear an argument comparing the country to pre-Invasion Iraq: “Syria’s ruled by an insidious tyrant, no doubt, but the guy keeps stuff in line! Toppling his regime would just lead to another ISIS.” What’s odd about this comparison is that people seem to forget that the last “S” in ISIS stands for Syria – terrorism can and does spring up under regimes like that of Bashar al-Assad and his family.

Take Egypt, the home of jihadist philosopher Sayyid Qutb. He was tortured and executed at the hands of the notoriously dictatorial Nasser government in 1966, and his following grew as his brother Muhammad Qutb took up the mantle, becoming a professor and promoter of Sayyid Qutb’s antisemitic and violent ideology. Muhammad Qutb soon became a sort of mentor to a young Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, grew up in Egypt and was imprisoned there in the wake of President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Sadat had recently signed the Camp David accords to establish diplomacy with Israel, and in the wake of a roundup of Islamist terrorists throughout the country, was murdered during a military parade. Al-Zawahiri was one of those captured and tortured after the assassination. Writers like Lawrence Wright have hypothesized that the humiliation al-Zawahiri endured under a repressive regime led to further radicalization among al-Zawahiri and his peers.

Another problem with the Iraq comparison is that it assumes that the recent air strikes were intended to get rid of Bashar al-Assad’s government. The recent strikes targeted three facilities and factories suspected of being used for the production of poisonous gases like sarin, which most international observers and media believe was the type of gas used to kill 40 people in the Damascus suburb Douma this month.

However, the comparison does get something right: if we aren’t trying to destroy Assad’s regime, what exactly is the American plan in Syria? Currently, we have about 2,000 troops there, trying to keep any conflict within the borders of the country. The strike performed Saturday was a joint effort between the United States, France, and Britain.

Between the start of the war in 2011 and 2016, the US admitted about 11,000 Syrian refugees, according to the Migration Policy Institute. But this does not seem to add up to one cohesive plan or idea for our involvement in Syria and its civil war. Our situation in this country seems entirely uncertain.

One fact that seems altogether certain, though, is this one: there are about 600,000 refugees fleeing from Syria, according to the UN. Undoubtedly, many of these people are unsettled. The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and has been underway for seven years. A refugee child born at the start of it who has remained unsettled will have likely missed most or the entirety of their formative years of education.

What kind of person will this sort of humiliation create? Even if we remain tentative or uncertain about Syria and its relation to the United States, there can be no doubt that if the war isn’t causing a problem for us now, it definitely will in the future.

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