Syria: Can anyone find a dog in this fight?
April 18, 2017
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The fifth annual St. Petersburg conference on world affairs was hosted at the University of South Florida Feb. 15-17.
The conference covered many different topics including, NATO, global internet espionage, the Syrian war and American immigration policy.
One of the key forums was “Syria: can we find a dog in this fight.” The purpose of the forum was to deliberate whether or not the United States should pick a side in the Syrian conflict.
The panel of speakers consisted of Nazek Jawad, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies (SIGS), at the University of South Florida, Cynthia L. Hogle, a former cultural intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, Marie-Roger Biloa, the Chief Executive Director of The Africa International Media Group and Charles B. Skinner, retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer that has taught courses on foreign policy and diplomacy, 20th-century history, and NATO at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Each of the speakers opened with an opening statement before answering questions from the audience which were coordinated by the moderator, Robert Sattin.
In her opening statement, Hogle talked about how she used to run humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, and the problems they encountered there. She mentions how many projects were started individually without any follow up, rendering them worthless. Hogle thinks, the most important thing in the Syria situation is to learn from the experiences, good and bad, that the United States has had in the Middle East.
Skinner spoke about the different rebel groups in Syria, pointing out that supporting rebel groups with weapons and money but not with military on the ground could be counterproductive.
Funneling resources into these organizations is risky because you lose control of where the funds and weapons are actually going. Skinner also talks about the United States’ role in regards to Russia, and raises the question of whether it was right or wrong to let Russia take the leading role in the conflict.
Biloa questioned the United States’ involvement in the Middle East, calling it irresponsible and pointing out that much of the problem rests with the countries that fund terrorist organizations. Countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which the United States are reluctant to put pressure on for obvious financial reasons are a few she identified.
Jawad speak about the complexity of Syria. She points out how Syria has been a fairly secular country until the recent turmoil with the Islamic State. She thinks the cultural and religious diversity is one of the reasons for the many rebel groups in Syria fighting each other.
After the initial statements, the panelists answered questions from the audience. All the questions were well-informed and several of them had to do with the United States role in regards to Saudi Arabia and their support of the Islamic State.
Biloa called the situation, the elephant in the room, something both the other panelists and the audience seemed to agree with.
So, can we find a dog in this fight?
The panelists say it is not that simple. The crisis in Syria is effected by many outside factors, like the influence of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Qatar, and if the United States want to make a difference, they have to start with these outside factors.