February 8, 2012

Social strife persists in Syria

The U.S. government closed its embassy in Damascus, Syria on Monday, Feb. 7 due to safety concerns. After Ambassador Robert Ford and the few people assisting him in the country had departed, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared the indefinite suspension of the embassy, according to Channel Six News.

In her State Department briefing, Nuland said, ”Our expectation is that our property will be protected and the hope is … this is a suspension, and when there are better days in Damascus, we’ll be able to reopen.”

Since Syrians began protesting the torture of students responsible for anti-government graffiti in March 2011, Syria has been in a state of unrest. President Bashar al-Assad took over Syria’s infamously harsh dictatorship from his predecessor and father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000. In April 2011, he sent tanks into cities, allowing security forces to open fire on demonstrators, according to the New York Times (NYT).

Nuland recommended taking “measures outside the U.N. to strengthen and deepen and broaden the international community of pressure on Assad … to continue his diplomatic isolation.” This would include increasing both regional and unilateral national sanctions on the Assad regime and pressuring those countries that are still trading with him, specifically weapons, to immediately change their actions.

Junior Kyle Cruz, who is studying abroad in Israel, was unsurprised by the embassy suspension.

“I don’t see their pullout as entirely shocking. For security reasons, obviously, they have to pull out … We won’t see any tangible short-term consequences because Syria is still in chaos,” he said.

“With personnel in danger, you just about have to [suspend the embassy]. But it’s also a statement and an important one by the U.S.; we don’t want to have anything to do with this. You’re murdering your people,” Professor of Economics Roy Andersen said.

The United Nations referred to the situation in Syria as being on the verge of civil war.

“It’s a terribly difficult situation obviously. It’s hard to know if Assad is truly in charge or if his military is,” Andersen said. “Odds are that the regime will not be able to hold on for a long time. To what extent the military is willing to hold on, that’s what sealed the deal in Egypt.”

On Saturday, Feb. 4, a U.N. resolution backing an Arab League plan endorsing political change in Syria was thwarted with a double veto from Russia and China. Russian deputy foreign minister Gennadi M. Gatilov claimed it was insufficient in bringing his country on board.

By vetoing this resolution, “it’s made it clear that if [Assad] is willing to use massive force against his own people, he can probably get away with it, which is an unfortunate message,” Professor of Political Science Karen Kampwirth said.

In January, the U.N. stopped tallying deaths after they passed 5,400 because it was too difficult to confirm. According to the NYT, the death toll has increased considerably, with hundreds killed in an attack on the city of Homs alone. The NYT reported estimates of detainees running from 15,000 to over 40,000.

In terms of a resolution in Syria, “It’s very hard to see how that would happen,” Kampwirth said.

“The situation in Syria is so complicated, especially when we consider the added difficulty of racial tensions,” sophomore Emily Themer said. “It’s not impossible, but I’m not sure where a resolution would come from.”

“My prediction is that the Assad government will fall,” Cruz said. “In the past, the U.S. may have tolerated Assad because he was relatively amicable toward Israel, but Assad has crossed the line; the political costs of maintaining relations with Syria are too high.”

*Since Kyle Cruz is currently studying abroad in Israel, his interview was conducted via email.

Samantha Paul
Samantha Paul is a senior double majoring in creative writing and Spanish. She previously served as both a news reporter and a copy editor for TKS. During the summer of 2012, Sam served as press chair of a literacy brigade in El Salvador. She has also interned with both Bloom Magazine and The Galesburg Register-Mail. At Knox, Sam is an organizational editor for Catch magazine.

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