Something about the headline “USA government decides to provide arms to XXXX” disturbs me. There has been a series of civilian uprising in the Middle East and several parts of the world. And the most frequent mode of response seems to be arms and ammunition or military action. While there might be a strong case of short term surgical military intervention for a precise objective, military intervention for a prolonged and directionless civil war is almost always counterproductive.
Syria is in the news lately. Let’s say you found a Syrian rebel and just before you hand him a gun, you asked “What does the future Syria look like? Will it be secular? Will there be equal rights for women? ”, what do you think his answer will be?
There is a common theme in most recent uprisings worldwide. The protesters succeed in threatening the existing regime, yet they don’t get enough traction to derail it. They begin with a bang, but lose in mid-game or end-game. They know what they don’t want. But once they are done away with that, they don’t really know what they want and how to get there.
So what seems like a promising change in course of affairs of a nation fizzles along the way. The direction is lost and despondence sets in. It goes either to stalemate and years of dragged civil war, or defeat of rebels. At some point society returns back to where it was, or rather a few years behind where it was, before the war. Occasionally the rebels succeed, but then they turn out to be worse than the people they replaced.
That’s the key difference between most of “springs” and rebellions worldwide and American Revolutionary war. The revolutionary war did not really begin on the battlefield. It began in the town hall. It did not begin with firing of guns. It began with signing the declaration of independence. The leaders of the war had a very clear constructive vision of how the country was going to look like after they won the war. That helped them garner widespread support of masses . Masses were genuinely convinced that winning the war was in their interest.
The distinguishing feature in these failed civil unrests is the lack of vision going forward. The core of any civil unrest needs to be a constructive vision of better future and a strong leader of a group of leaders committed to that vision. As long as the vision is there, common people will go to war again and again, with whatever arms they have. As long as it is not there, no amount of external infusion of arms will convince common people to fight.
The importance of such a positive vision is critical to any civil unrest. Frustration and anger are not enough, because a constructive, sustainable, long term change cannot ride on the back of negative emotions alone.
I have no doubt in my mind that many people behind the decision to arm Syrian rebels have genuine intention to do something good. And that Assad has committed many crimes against his own people. And that rebels are committed to their cause and their grievances are genuine. Yet I have many doubts about how this whole thing of providing arms assistance is going to pan out.
So what do we do? Do nothing and let innocent civilians die?
If I were the president of USA, I would use all the might to orchestrate a truce between Asad and the rebels. Temporarily remove imminent threat to Assad so he would stop using extreme measures. Perhaps arrange some UN headed oversight of the Syrian administration to make sure that there is no retaliation. Let life get back to normal to some extent. Let students return to schools, workers return to factories.
And then I would spend all the money I had set aside for Syria in political education of Syrian people. In empowering the grassroot leaders that can drive the change organically. In bringing out Jeffersons, Lincolns, Martin Luther Kings of the Syrian society.
And one day they will have a Syrian dream. It may take a decade or two, but for sure they will have a dream. And once they do, there will be no turning back. Remember, what won the civil rights battle for Martin Luther King was not his anger, but his dream.