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Modern Syria was established after the First World War as a French mandate and was the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly occupied Ottoman Empire. On the 24th October 1945, Syria became a founding member of the United Nations, an act that legally ended the formerly French occupancy and resulted in the establishment of a parliamentary republic. The post-independence era for Syria proved to be a hectic and violent era between the 1950s-1970s with a surge in military coups and civil warfare. Syria is located in Western Asia with its territory bordering Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. It is currently the 89th largest country in the world with a population of over 17 million citizens. The majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims which make up 74% of the population.

Syria has been ruled by Bashar al-Assad’s family since 1970. The Assad family keeps a tight control on Syria’s security forces which has led to institutionalized discrimination against Sunni Muslims. On March the 15th 2011, protests began in the capital of Damascus, demanding that the government released political prisoners and submitted democratic reformation. Assad’s security forces retaliated by opening fire on the protestors showing no remorse for human rights. On the 20th of April 2011, public demonstrations escalated and demonstrators burned down the Ba’ath party headquarters. The Baa’th party was headed by Assad and was the same party that brought Saddam Hussein to power in Iraq in the 80s. On July 29th 2011, seven defecting Syrian officers formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that aimed to bring the Assad government down.

During July of the same year, the FSA gained notoriety across Syria and continued demonstrations which resulted in over 16,000 people killed. This sparked the International Committee of the Red Cross to declare Syria in a conflict a civil war. After over two years of skirmishes between both parties, ISIS became involved in the war, having overrun Syria’s formerly FSA controlled town of Azaz in the north. The Syrian government shortly after enlisted the aid of Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist militant group based in Lebanon that were long standing supporters of the Assad family.

On June 2014, Syria held a presidential election in government held areas; this resulted in al-Assad winning 88.7% of the votes. The election was dismissed by the European Union and the United States and was branded as illegitimate. On the 19th of August, American journalist James Foley along with European captives was executed by ISIS. With American citizens being endangered and a discontent for al-Assad’s reign, the United States began bombing on September 3rd 2014. On 30th September 2015, Russia by request of the Syrian government began airstrikes against ISIS and the FSA. This move was questionable and sparked much international controversy as the U.S. and EU both considered Assad to be a war criminal and in violation of multiple human rights issues.

Central Issues

Syria’s economy is solely based on its agriculture, oil industry and services. Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil war, the Syrian economy has fallen victim to harsh economic sanctions that restrict trade between Canada, Australia, the United States and the European Union. Agricultural development is paramount to Syria’s economic development as the government seeks to achieve food self-sufficiency and increase its export earnings. The agricultural sector currently employs roughly 17% of the total labor force and generates about 21% of GDP. The majority of land is privately owned, with 28% being cultivated and 21% irrigated.

Syria is the only crude oil producing country within the Eastern Mediterranean region and according to the Oil and Gas Journal; it has over 2,500,000,000 barrels in possession. Prior to recent sanctions, Syria’s oil industry was its largest export with the majority of recipients belonging to the European Union, this included Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Austria, Spain and Turkey. Although Syria produces a considerably moderate amount of oil and gas compared to other producing nations, its location is strategic in terms of regional security and prospective energy transit routes. Syria’s oil industry has been under a storm of controversy ever since the uprising of the Islamic State. The militants currently control around half a dozen oil-producing oilfields and have established trading networks across northern Iraq. ISIS currently operates a sophisticated smuggling empire with illegal exports entering Turkey, Jordan and Iran. In June 2015, the U.S.’s reconnaissance drones flying around Northern Iraq spotted large numbers of oil tankers crossing unhindered from ISIS controlled regions. The U.S. responded by destroying seven oil tankers, with Iraqi aircraft hitting similar targets.

Politics and Government
Syria is a semi-presidential republic with a President acting as head of state and a prime minister as the head of government. The government’s constitution requires the president to be a Muslim but does not officially recognize Islam as the state religion. Syria’s current prime minister is Wael Nader al-Halqi and the president is Bashar al-Assad. Al-Assad is currently facing allegations regarding war crimes and crimes against humanity with multiple cases of torture and imprisonment during his regime. The constitution grants the president power to appoint ministers, declare war, issue laws, and amend the constitution and appoint civil servants and military personnel. Under the previous constitution, Syria did not hold any multi-party elections for the legislature, with over two thirds of the seats automatically allocated to the ruling collation. On May 2012 Syria held its first democratic election which enabled parties outside of the ruling collation to take part. Seven new political parties participated, of which Popular Front for Change and Liberation was the largest opposition party. As a result of ongoing civil war, various alternative governments have been formed including the Syrian Interim Government, the Democratic Union Party.

Syria’s primary goals regarding foreign policy have been focused on ensuring national security, increasing its influence with Arab neighbors and reclaiming Golan Heights which was annexed by Israel in 1981. Since the ongoing civil war, Syria’s diplomatic ties to Europe and the United States have been turbulent resulting in a trade embargo. Syria fosters positive relations with its traditional allies Russia and Iran, who are amongst the few countries that supported the Syrian government during its conflict.

Arguments For U.S. Involvement
There are numerous strong arguments currently in circulation in the general media that support the case for persistence and intensification of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets. The official justification for the engagement was issued by President Obama in his September 2014 address which he stated “if unchecked, these terrorists could post a growing threat beyond that region – including the United States.”. The Islamic state has continuously threatened the U.S. and its allies and posed a fearsome threat to the people of Iraq and Syria. The following reasons outline why the U.S. should intervene in Syria:

1.) The U.S. has put a considerable effort into building a new Iraq.

The United States military suffered casualties of over 4,000 personnel during the Iraq war and sent home over 32,000 who were physically or mentally damaged. The war on Iraq and Afghanistan cost the U.S. at least $1.26 trillion from start to finish. Including all of the efforts from international allies the overall ‘war on terror’ is estimated at $8 trillion. To see a fragmented and fragile Iraqi democracy left behind and imminent to dissolve to an ISIS onslaught is simply too much for many to bear.

2.) The rise of ISIS in Syria cannot be ignored, it must be resisted. It is a global force.

ISIS is not solely focused on Iraq and Syria alone and it’s evident that if it is not destroyed, its influence will continue to spread further. ISIS want to create a caliphate and that affects directly the interests of more moderate Arabic forces that are allies of the U.S. ISIS already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom and is committed to expand and purify the world by killing vast numbers of people who do not submit to their demands. This type of threat is on parallel with Hitler which forces a required and unavoidable response.

3.) No action will result in victory to al-Assad, Iran and Hezbollah.

The Obama administration is currently orchestrating an attack against Syria which is aimed at punishing al-Assad rather than seeking to change the course of the civil war. Without any American intervention, al-Assad who is notorious for human rights allegations remains in control. His allies, Iran and Hezbollah have a nefarious track record and are responsible for terrorist attacks in Asia, Europe and South America. The Syrian government is also well known for using internationally banned chemical weapons, exclusively nerve gas to kill hundreds of its own citizens. Chemical weapons are appealing to dictators refusing to give up power and are ideal for terrorist groups seeking to inflict maximal fear.

Arguments Against U.S. Involvement
Opposition against a U.S. involvement in Syria revolves around the risks required to take on an intervention. The desired goal is to attempt to achieve a concrete political or military presence in Syria. There have been minimal talks among politicians regarding the rebuilding of the nation, and many leaders simply want to bomb Damascus or Aleppo to support to conscience that the West ‘did something’ without any plans for stabilization. The following are reasons why the U.S. should not be involved:

1.) Going to war in Syria gives terrorists too much influence over American foreign policy.

ISIS is well aware that its status is greatly inflated in radical Islamic circles if the United States continues to attack. It has been suggested that ISIS’s exploitation of social media is responsible for influencing much of the U.S.’s foreign policy. The execution of numerous American journalists required a military response, but not a commitment to a full scale war.

2.) Should the U.S. really get involved in another series of endless wars?

To launch an attack on Syria in a fashion proposed by President Obama effectively opens up the U.S.’s third engagement in the Middle East in less than two decades. The Afghan war supposedly ended in 2014 when U.S. forces withdrew despite many critics panning it as unsuccessful. The war in Iraq has resulted in militants taking advantage of Iraq’s destabilization. The electorate should be critical of recent engagements and question if a presence in Syria will garner any different results.

3.) The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated the civilian death toll that comes with military interventions quickly exceeds the prompt to conduct an intervention in the first place.

In Iraq alone there have been over 160,000 documented civilian deaths from violence following the invasion in 2003. The United Nations claims that during the Syrian civil war that al-Assad is responsible for over 200,000 civilian deaths. A U.S intervention will unfortunately result in further bloodshed, with many civilians effectively imprisoned under ISIS’s militant regime or forced to support al-Assad’s government.

Candidates' Positions on Syria

Hillary Clinton
Gary Johnson
Jill Stein
Donald Trump


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