Book Launch: “The Battle for Syria” by Christopher Phillips

I have been to so many interesting events in London so far! Book launches, panel discussions, lectures, film screenings…the list goes on.

One of the most interesting events I have been to so far has been the book launch of Christopher Phillips new book The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East.

Not only was the event held in a room in the Houses of Parliament (which was really cool!), Chris’s talk was incredibly clear, concise, and well researched. I can’t wait to get my copy and devour it.

Chris had a few main conclusions that he presented, which reframed the discussion of the conflict in Syria from the fragmented internal factors, to the force of the interested international actors. Firstly, he claimed that the international environment was critical in transforming the uprising into a civil war. Due to the weakened power of US hegemony in the region (because of the failure of the Iraq war), there was a reluctance to get involved and intervene early on. Secondly, once the unrest in Syria began, actions taken by the international community escalated the conflict into a civil war. For example, Obama’s call for Bashar al-Assad to step down led to the general expectation of US involvement, which resulted in the opposition to arm themselves believing that America was coming to their aid…..however, the US had no intention of taking any military action. Additionally, although Iran and Russia weren’t initially on board with Assad’s tactics, they saw him as this focal point against the US. Thirdly, once the armed conflict was underway, the international actors shaped the war and have prolonged the scale and the violence. Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are all anti-Assad, but have all backed different armed groups, leading to schisms in the opposition, and an increase in extremism and competition for resources. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are all on the Assad side, and ISIS is also a factor in the conflict. All of these external actors are providing enough support for the armed groups to stay in the game, as it were, but not enough to win. And so the danger is now an outsourced war where no one side has enough resources to win, but no one side has sustained enough losses to consider conceding. As of now, it seems like the actors who are supporting Assad are willing to put in more resources to maintain his power, and, with the lack of a coherent opposition, Western actors are fearful of putting too many resources on the ground in case they fall into extremist hands.

I find Chris’s analysis to be an interesting understanding of how the conflict has reached this point, and I’m looking forward to reading his book to get a better grasp of his arguments. It’s challenging to predict how the situation will progress, and when/how the conflict will end, but what is certain is that while international actors are vying for position and power, the people who are actually getting hurt are Syrian civilians and activists who began calling for freedom and democracy.