Boston College welcomed renowned writer and activist Phyllis Bennis on Tuesday to talk about the conflict in Syria. Entitled “Ending the Many Wars in Syria,” the lecture focused not only on the Syrian Civil War, but also on the various other conflicts and proxy wars going on in the region.
Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, and co-chair of the United Nations-based International Coordinating Network on Palestine. She is the author of several books, most recently Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer.
The event was sponsored by the history and sociology departments, the Program on Islamic Civilization and Societies, and the Center for Human Rights and International Justice.
“Right now, the situation in Syria is as dire as anyone could imagine, and it’s as bad as we are hearing in the press, and then some,” Bennis said to begin her talk.
Bennis outlined the conflict as a part of the broader War on Terror, a war she believes has failed miserably. The conflict stems from the creeping militarization of U.S. foreign policy that has already failed in Libya, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“We’ve been at war with terror for 15 years, and terrorism is doing just fine, which should give us an indication that war is not a very useful approach to dealing with terror,” Bennis said. “Terrorism is a serious problem. Going to war against it has made it stronger, further afield from where its origins were; it’s made everything worse.”
Bennis’s hope is to de-escalate the conflict back into the nonviolent political movement it was in the early part of the Arab Spring, which would allow the involvement of a much broader coalition including all citizens, not just armed fighters.
“If your goal in Syria is to stop ISIS or Assad or anybody else from killing Syrians, stop killing Syrians yourself.”
The key to ending the Syrian Civil War, she argues, is ending all the proxy wars that have prolonged and intensified the original conflict. Within Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for regional and religious influence, Russia is struggling against the U.S. for greater influence, and Turkey is attempting to weaken the Kurds, with the added tensions between Iran and the U.S.
“We’re not trying to win the war, we’re trying to end the war,” she said.
Bennis argued that the U.S. should cease bombing operations against Syria to halt the killing of civilians and prevent anti-American sentiment among the local population.
“If your goal in Syria is to stop ISIS or Assad or anybody else from killing Syrians, stop killing Syrians yourself,” she said. “That means stop bombing Syria, withdraw the planes, withdraw the troops, withdraw the special forces … Just stop. It’s not doing anybody any good.”
Further, the U.S. should not try to implement a no-fly zone over the area, which she believes risks sparking a war with Russia and huge losses from Syrian anti-aircraft capabilities. She also pointed out the failure of the Pentagon’s $500 million operation to train Syrian rebel forces, and how the weapons sent to Syrian rebels are ending up in extremist hands.
Diplomacy, not military action, is Bennis’s solution. She argued for a no-fly zone agreed to by all parties diplomatically, rather than having it be a forced U.S. imposition, and called for a massive regionwide arms embargo to halt the flow of weapons into Syria. She also took the position that the U.S. should drastically increase the number of Syrian refugees it is taking in.
Ultimately, Bennis stated her position—the Syrian Civil War cannot and should not be won. It should end with a peace deal involving all sides seeking to gain from the conflict. That includes not just the Assad regime and the rebels, but the U.S., Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other countries as well.
“At some point there will be a negotiated settlement,” Bennis said. “The question is what has to happen first.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor