Syria’s civil war: time to call it what it is

I constantly see headlines which say something along the lines of “fears of Syria civil war” or “Clashes in Syria amid civil war warnings” which I have to say confuse me a bit. A quick search for definitions of the term “civil war” seems to suggest that it is “a war between political factions or regions within the same country.” Wikipedia states that the parties must be organised, but the general theme is the same – war between groups within a country. Surely then Syria is already in a civil war, so why won’t anyone admit that?

My guess would be that Western powers don’t want to say it because they would rather frame the conflict as the Syrian government cracking down on protesters, and that calling it a civil war could be seen to be legitimating government violence against its citizens. Russia doesn’t want to say it because then they would be admitting that the Syrian government is not as strong as they would like it to be. The news media in general reports what officials are saying, so they won’t call it a civil war until someone in power does. Obviously Al-Assad and co aren’t gonna say it – in their view the opposition are terrorists and criminals.

Calling the crisis a civil war won’t actually change anything the ground but it will allow for a more robust dialogue on how this situation can be resolved. However for now it seems as if the emperor has no clothes. Everyone can see that Syria is in the grip of a violent and nasty civil war yet no one will admit it…


11 responses to “Syria’s civil war: time to call it what it is

  • sjperera

    Syria is a conundrum on soo many different levels… no one wants to use the “C” word but let’s be honest, it is what it is… no one wants to get involved although everyone of them is partially involved, the Russians and Chinese included… it will get more and more difficult to avoid and if the recent clashes in Lebanon go out of control (which I’m not expecting but still…) it could become a major headache and a new proxy war for the Middle East… Yemen (1960s and 2000s), Lebanon (1970-80s), Iraq (2003-) and now Syria… Sunnis, Shiites, Turks, Monarchs the whole lot!

    • fromthefourthcorner

      Interesting you use Yemen as an example because it looks like that is heating up again too. Wouldn’t be surprised with a US-led “intervention” there at some stage in the not too distant future. It would definitely be an easier operation than one in Syria. Plus I get the feeling that Western powers want to ensure some control over the shipping lanes in the Suez/Red Sea/Gulf of Aden area – and not just to stop pirates either.

      • sjperera

        Complex only due to Syria’s ties to the region and all the lines that go across it. Jumping Assad isn’t an issue, Israel’s military capabilities alone could accomplish that in a few weeks, much less the U.S. The problem lies in post-war reconstruction, especially in a splintered country. Yemen is easier only in the sense that a drone program could be used instead of boots on the ground. The terran is not known to be too friendly… some even have compared it to parts of Afghanistan. It would be a long war of attrition, not the types the US or anyone else wants to get involved in.

  • dreamzmedia

    I bet Syria does not have any oil under all that rubble…

  • World Watcher

    I think, the fact that opposition is not unified as a single bloc, and not using heavy arms are two of the factors it is still not termed as Civil war. In essence what’s going on is a multifaceted conflict, which can be termed as a civil war to be honest, so I agree with you. Also, terming it as a civil war, leaves no room for the Powers to manipulate the outcome without explicitly taking sides.

    Like I said in my op-ed a few days back, this is probably the best chance to bog down Russia and China in Middle East.

    • fromthefourthcorner

      Yeah, I think just because its an unbalanced conflict doesn’t stop it being a civil war. Wikipedia considers both Chechen wars as civil wars for example and they were cases where one side was much better armed than the other, for instance. Not that Wikipedia is a great authority but if that’s an example of popular opinion then surely Syria must qualify too.
      The opposition not being unified is probably the best overt reason for claiming its not a civil war. I wonder how much of that is a reflection of how its been framed though? External powers aren’t treating them as unified so they aren’t trying to be, or they aren’t viewed as such. TBH I don’t know enough about the nature of the opposition groups to say but is it much different to Libya in that regard?
      Overall I still think its about the way that calling it a civil war forces external forces to act. No one wants that except the opposition themselves and because they aren’t legitmated by it being called a civil war no one will listen to them!

  • E.Puha

    Is it a civil war though? The opposition would likely have been crushed already if it were not for foreign intervention and many of the fighters have been brought in from the outside

    Seems more like a proxy war to me.

    • fromthefourthcorner

      Most rebel or opposition groups in civil wars have some support from external actors though, and foreigners fighting in them in some capacity. I would say that it is a civil war and a proxy war. As I understand it a proxy war is just when both sides get substantial help from third parties who have strategic reasons for doing so, so a proxy war could be an interstate war or a civil war.

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