Another Perspective

Why Syria?

Opportunities for humanitarian military intervention abound.

By 9.13.13

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Which of the following describes the civil war in Syria?

1. The civil war in this ancient country drags on and on. At the center of the war is a Russian-backed government fighting militant Islamists hoping to carve out an Islamic state. Suspected rebels have been tortured and kidnapped, their ancestral homes burnt to the ground. There are daily clashes in this small country. The rebels call on the U.S. for help. The civil war remains a stalemate.

2. The rebels in this country want to topple a dictator and set up a theocratic state. The conflict has resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis. Both sides have been accused of widespread human rights violations and atrocities. One and a half million civilians have been displaced, an estimated 100,000 civilians killed. President Obama, feeling pressure from his interventionist advisors, sends 100 troops in a purely symbolic gesture to a neighboring country in 2011 on a time-limited mission. The troops will be fighting Christians.

3. A radical Islamic movement is attempting to topple a government it sees as illegitimate. The Islamic radicals accuse government forces of perpetrating massacres. countrymen demonstrate against the regime, others, who fear the radicals will set up a theocracy, demonstrate in support of the regime. President Obama takes a tough line with the government and cuts aid. year alone, more than 1,100 people have died in the conflict.

4. This Middle East country finds Islamic rebels, including members of al Qaeda, fighting an Islamic government. The rebels seek to topple the government and set up an Islamic theocracy. This nation, which has used chemical weapons before, refuses to sign a chemical weapons ban. "The security… is deteriorating rapidly and is of significant concern," says Sen. Bob Corker, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Christians continue to be the targets of systematic violence. Torture is still the order of the day, says one human rights group. Another organization puts the number of dead or wounded this year at more than 4,137 civilians killed, and 9,865 wounded.


5. None of the above.

The correct answer is 5. None of the above.

You may be forgiven, however, for mistaking the conflicts in Ingushetia, Uganda, Egypt, and Iraq for the one currently being waged in Syria. Little differentiates them except Washington's all-consuming mania to get rid of al Assad.

Many of these wars are bloodier than the conflict in Syria. Iraq, for instance, has seen 4,137 deaths between January and July. The Ugandan war against the Lord’s Resistance Movement has seen 100,000 killed. The Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza has the same concentration of civilians killed as does Syria, but no one in the Obama Administration is threatening air strikes against Tel Aviv. Of the four countries with the highest civilian death tolls, two of them -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- were supposed to have been neutered by American military intervention.

All of these conflicts have victims crying out for U.S. humanitarian military intervention. Why are some cries heeded and others not?

VIRGIL HAWKINS, AUTHOR of Stealth Conflicts, How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored, describes six factors that determine media coverage of global conflicts. And media coverage shapes what governments do. These are: national/political interest, geographic proximity/access, ability to identify, ability to sympathize, simplicity and sensationalism.

Proximity is most important. Large media outlets station reporters in Jerusalem or Cairo, so covering Middle East conflicts is relatively easy. Africa has few correspondents, and because of its size and impassable roads and the expense to send reporters there it is poorly reported.

Simplicity is another key factor. The ideal conflict for journalists has an obvious bad guy oppressing a peaceful, familiar underdog, writes Hawkins. If the conflict is too hard for the average TV viewer to get the media won't waste time reporting it. We don’t get Africa. We may sympathize with the victims, but we lack the ability to identify. African conflicts, which seem omnipresent and never-ending, bring only bring yawns, which is why the biggest conflict since World War II, The Second Congo War, is virtually unknown to Americans. This is why 90 percent of the world's conflict-related deaths occur not in the media-obsessed Middle East, but in war-torn Africa, says Hawkins.

The Syrian Civil War is a conflict the average Joe understands, with Assad playing the role of Hitler or Osama Bin Laden, and the rebels as Sylvester Stallone's Rocky. What's more Assad is Muslim. He is linked to Russia and Iran and Hezbollah, three of our top enemies. Understanding is one thing, but Joe still doesn’t want to go to war in Syria fighting alongside al Qaeda troops. How sad the Washington elite doesn't get that. 

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.