photo: Stf/Associated Press
By changing the terms used to describe Syria, calling the fighting “civil war” instead of an attempt to overthrow the government — as part of the “Arab Spring” — diplomats signal the possibility of outside military intervention.
In Egypt, it was a successful, largely bloodless, “overthrow of the government.”
In Tunisia, it was the “overthrow of the government.”
In Libya, it was the attempted, and failing, “overthrow of the government” until the US/NATO got involved. Then the government was overthrown. (What’s left is rebels fighting the interim government – which just postponed elections till July 7. Sixteen people were killed in fighting just today. But, since we’re all supposed to think this was a successful intervention, Libya is no longer a headline.)
Over a year ago, fighting started in Syria… to “overthrow the government.” It is failing, but the rebels persist.
The US keeps asking, “Is it a civil war yet?” The UN visits and asks, “Is it a civil war yet?” Today, on NPR, the reporter announced that it is officially a “civil war.”
The rebels don’t like this label. They call it a “popular uprising.” One could call it a revolutionary war, or an attempted coup. (In Egypt, what looked like a people’s overthrow of the government is really a coup, because the military is in charge, not the people.)
The cause of the escalating violence in Syria is not that suddenly it’s a “civil war”, it’s because both sides have acquired more weapons. Everyone is parsing how and why Russia has sold Syria weapons (and is still under a decades-old contract to do so). Well, the rebels are getting weapons from outside, too.
Officials to want to call it a civil war, because calling it a civil war makes it easier to justify foreign intervention.
But by foreigners, they don’t mean Russia, or Saudi Arabia, or Oman. Foreigners, in this case, means the US.
This is horribly, horribly, wrong. With Russia supplying the Syrian government, and the looming possibility of the US supplying the rebels and NATO, the conflict starts to look like a proxy war between the US and Russia. Do we really want to go there? Only 15% of Americans think this is a good idea.