Episode 5 -- It's Complicated

April 11, 2017


Cable news just tuned into the Syrian Civil War in a big way—but the immensely complex conflict has been raging for six years. Five hundred thousand are dead and Bashar al-Assad just upped the ante with a chemical weapons strike that caught the attention of a TV-attuned Donald Trump.


Nearly 60 U.S. missiles later nobody knows if everything has changed—or if we are right where we started. We discuss how we got here and speculate on what might happen next.



What to learn more? Here’s a few articles and books to get you started.


The Syrian Civil War is hugely complex, and no reading list will give you everything you need to know (this one included). But below are links to some excellent resources if you are interested in diving deeper into the issues we discussed in this week.


“Assad Used Nerve Gas Because He’s Desperate. Expect Worse to Come.” by Roy Gutman, the Daily Beast 4/10/17


“The Syrian regime has been under intense pressure,” a senior U.S. military official told reporters in Washington on Friday. He said rebels in an advance last month threatened to capture the Hama airfield, a key base for helicopters and a suspected barrel bomb manufacturing facility.


Losing the Hama base was a “significant risk” to the regime and U.S. analysts judged that the use of chemical weapons was “linked to a battlefield desperation decision to stop the opposition from seizing those key regime elements.”


Within days of the setback in Hama, Syrian regime forces began using chemical weapons.


“Syria: A Journey into the Unknown” by Michael Hanna and Sam Heller, War on the Rocks  4/10/17


Washington has endeavored to clearly communicate the limited objectives of its strikes, but there is nonetheless substantial ambiguity about American aims, much of it of Washington’s own making. Any reaction or counter-escalation by U.S. adversaries is now largely out of America’s control, and some opportunists are already trying to repurpose U.S. action for their own, less focused ends.


ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan


In this fully revised and updated edition of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, American journalist Michael Weiss and Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan explain how these violent extremists evolved from a nearly defeated Iraqi insurgent group into a jihadi army of international volunteers who, with slickly produced murder videos, are spreading violence and mayhem across the globe.


“The Obama Doctrine” by Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic April 2016

Obama’s caution on Syria has vexed those in the administration who have seen opportunities, at different moments over the past four years, to tilt the battlefield against Assad. Some thought that Putin’s decision to fight on behalf of Assad would prompt Obama to intensify American efforts to help anti-regime rebels. But Obama, at least as of this writing, would not be moved, in part because he believed that it was not his business to stop Russia from making what he thought was a terrible mistake.





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