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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.”

– By Jason Kornwitz

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