The Syrian crisis is an ever-shifting maze of political, military, and humanitarian dilemmas. Powerful nations ring their hands but cannot, or will not, intervene militarily. The U.S. may turn up the heat with weapons, logistics, and intelligence support for rebels, but it’s not enough to win them the fight. A wave of atrocities—some documented, others not—have become commonplace.
Unfortunately, it’s become difficult to make sense of the situation. Syrian authorities have restricted journalists from bearing witness. Reporters who do go inside Syria do their best in extremely difficult conditions, they risk being captured or killed. They have to choose between a regime-restricted story, entering with an official government visa, or a free but limited ground view of rebel groups who take them in as embedded reporters.
My own first encounter with the Syrian military was in 1976 in neighboring Lebanon. I was a CBS News Correspondent covering the Lebanese Civil War and Syrian forces had entered the country—not for the last time—to put down the latest skirmish that threatened instability along the border. The Syrians wanted foreign media to report that they were not invaders, but ‘peacekeepers’. Leaving the truth of that aside, getting myself and my film crew past the Syrian military’s checkpoint was a challenge. I had a half dozen press passes from various Lebanese militias, but the Syrians were suspicious of anything written in Lebanese Arabic. I produced my CBS News card. Nope. They had never heard of ‘Columbia,’ much less its broadcast system. In desperation I pulled out my American Express card, which convinced them that I was part of American media. Dealing with the Syrian military would prove more difficult in the years to come, but still, they mostly stayed inside their barracks.
No such luck for reporters who now cover the rebellion inside Syria itself. The military has been consistently ruthless in dealing with dissent and freedom of speech. Today, those brave journalists who deal with Syrian authorities are under constant danger. We owe them a massive thanks for their efforts, and hope they are safe as can be.
Their efforts to share information are deeply needed. No country lives or operates in a vacuum. What happens in Syria has an impact on politics throughout the Arab world, Iran, Turkey, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. The major powers—the U.S. China, Russia, and Europe—all have stakes in how this most terrible conflict is played out. It is imperative to understand what it is that is happening in the country.
We know why people defend their own ethnic group or political cause; it is often the perception of their own survival at stake. Principles, and the general perception of being on the ‘right side’, also play a big part. There have been many days in the Middle East when I would have morning coffee with a group of fighters or civilians from one side of a conflict. They would tell me, with sincerity, how they are suffering at the hands of the other side. In the afternoon, I might hear similar stories from members of the other side.
There are many around the world who condemn Bashar al Assad for this violent crisis. Yet there are still some, even in Syria, who support his regime. Knowing the eye of the beholder becomes a deeply embedded brake in any rush to judgment in my reporter’s head. It made me think harder. But it never stopped me from forming opinions about who is being victimized, who is exploiting ethnic fears, and who is responsible for atrocities. I gradually developed the realization that as difficult as it may seem, we must try our best to save one of the most endangered human treasures on earth: the open mind.
The Syria Deeply op-ed section is a space where analysis, opinion, and personal experiences can all contribute to a better understanding of the conflict. Points of view are most credible—and most influential—when framed with facts and logic.
If you are a decision maker, opinion leader, casual news consumer, or a direct victim of the Syrian conflict, you need access to context, clarity, and understanding. We hope to help you achieve that. We invite you to add your knowledge, expertise, and opinions, and to always keep an open mind.