Experts tackle Syria conflict and its global impact

Political journalist Rami Khouri characterizes the Syrian conflict as history’s “biggest proxy war,” one in which the majority of actors believe they are fighting an “existential battle.”

Speaking on Tuesday at Northeastern during a panel discussion on the global impact of the civil war in Syria, he noted that internal forces are afraid to lose in fear of being expelled from Syria, while external actors such as France and Russia “can’t afford to lose either because of their strategic interests in the nation.”

Whatever the outcome, the war will end when Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. come to an agreement on a resolution. “An end will not come very quickly unless they talk and agree on a mechanism to end the conflict,” said Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

Tuesday’s event—the first in a new series titled “Controversial Issues in Security Studies”—was sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Northeastern Humanities Center in partnership with the Middle East Center, the Center for Resilience Studies, and the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures.

In addition to Khouri, the panelists comprised Franck Salameh, assistant professor of near eastern studies in the Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages at Boston College, and Valentine Moghadam, professor of sociology and director of the International Affairs Program at Northeastern. Max Abrahms, a newly appointed assistant professor of political science, and Denis Sullivan, professor of political science and international affairs and co-director of the Middle East Center, moderated the two-hour discussion, which ranged from peace talks to military strikes.

Moghadam rejected the idea of a U.S. military strike in Syria, noting that America’s “President Bashar al-Assad must go stance” has only served to “encourage the rebels and Islamists.”

“We don’t need a military strike but rather a diplomatic and political one,” she said. “It’s astonishing that the U.S. and U.K. have opposed every attempt of political dialogue since July 2011.”

The kind of solution that ends the conflict, which has killed about 100,000 since March of 2011, will play a big role in determining the Middle East’s fate, according to the trio of experts. To that end, Salameh referenced a map of a politically re-divided Middle East illustrating how the sectarian war could split Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia into 14 new countries. “This map is not a prediction of the future or a violation of the laws of nature, but rather a reckoning with the past,” said Salameh. “The battle that rages today is likely continue to rage for the purposes of topographic and geographic rearrangements.”

Following the panel discussion, the experts fielded questions on topics ranging from partition and Syrian refuges to the agreement between the U.S. and Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

One student asked the panelists whether the Iraq and Afghanistan wars factored into the government’s reluctance to launch a military strike in Syria. “The U.S. has poured too many resources into at least two wars that have not succeeded,” Moghadam replied. “Americans do not want to get mired in these other wars.”