April 25, 2019 | 56° F

UZUMCU: United States participates in proxy war with Syria

Opinions Column: Fahrenheit 250

Last week’s United Nations Security Council meeting deliberated on the escalating stream of chaos from Aleppo, particularly around Russian-Syrian bombardment of the region. The short-lived ceasefire between the United States and Russia dismantled once airstrikes decimated a U.N. humanitarian aid convoy, killing at least 20 people.

“Bunker-busting bombs, more suited to destroying military installations, are now destroying homes, decimating bomb shelters, crippling, maiming, killing dozens, if not hundreds. Incendiary munitions, indiscriminate in their reach, are being dropped on to civilian areas so that, yet again, Aleppo is burning. And to cap it all, water supplies are now being targeted, depriving water to those most in need. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes,” said Matthew Rycroft, the United Kingdoms ambassador and permanent representative to the U.N., during the emergency security council session on Syria last Sunday.

The U.S. characterizes suspected Russian bombardment as a war crime, requiring prosecution in international criminal courts. One cannot deny the evident horrifying violence reported from Aleppo, characterized by the widely circulated video of the shocked little boy in the ambulance, among other stories of daily rescue missions pulling wounded bodies out from beneath the rubble. The United States is aiding a war that many Americans have no conception of. Dominant media sources continuously misrepresent the war as a bloody civil war, meanwhile multiple actors, including world super powers, deliberate on their roles in Syria. More accurately, the Syrian war has escalated into a complicated, contradictory proxy war. The mass media takes a loophole when characterizing the conflict as a "civil war" by ultimately implying an easy exit. We can read the Syrian war as a continuation of its bloody legacy since the first Iraq war. The political vacuum and sectarian violence that created an environment for the Islamic State to have a stronghold in Iraq has spread throughout the region. The U.S. military is very much at war in Syria, though it has the geopolitical influence and geographical advantage in maneuvering the war through allies and military resources, rather than with "boots on the ground."

If the media painted the U.S. as a clear actor, one that was supporting Kurdish nationalist militia (YPG), meanwhile pressuring its NATO ally, Turkey, to fight alongside Kurdish nationalism, Americans could better locate the messy contradictions. Turkey has a long history of protecting its borders against Kurdish forces, both through foreign policy measures and domestic policies to assimilate its Kurdish population. In 1997, the U.S. Department of State blacklisted the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an organization originally fighting for Kurdish national independence, as a terrorist organization. Once the Syrian proxy war broke out, the U.S. began to value the once deemed terrorist affiliated PKK’s sister organization, the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) militia (YPG), as a necessary force to fight the Islamic State. From lone U.S. volunteer troops fighting alongside the YPG to wearing patches in support of the YPG cause, the implications of the U.S.'s political maneuvering are un-calculated and unknown. The history of Kurdish national resistance movements requires greater complication and continues to evolve rapidly.

Yet many of the actors mentioned above were not present around the UN security council’s emergency roundtable. Those who have territorial stakes, as well as human capital on the line, were not there to deliberate their own fates in this meeting. Instead, alleged Russian airstrikes and U.S. aid of Kurdish nationalism, which has unfolding and hidden effects, saturate the Syrian conflict. The Syrian civilians, rebels, Assad forces, Turkish and Kurdish actors remain pawns mitigated by a proxy war dynamic reminiscent of Cold War logic. The American public and media only speak of the Cold War in anachronistic terms, rather than discussing the stake of war. It becomes particularly crude from the vantage point of the Syrian refugee crisis. Though the U.S. is ready to arm and supply the death machine that unfolds as the Syrian war, it fails to accept and recognize the precarious lives of those displaced by the violence. The national conversation is at a nadir, parsing out which refugee lives deserve mourning and recognition. The United States and its security council allies make accusations of war crimes without considering their own airstrikes escalating death tolls in July, meanwhile demarcating and diminishing Syrian lives through xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric.

Meryem Uzumcu is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in planning and public policy, Middle Eastern studies and women’s and gender studies. Her column, “Fahrenheit 250,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Meryem Uzumcu

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