The increasingly complicated situation in Syria recently developed a new element of complexity. As rebel troops battle the forces of Bashar al-Assad across the Syrian countryside and in population centers such as Aleppo, the strength of the civil leadership is being criticized by international leaders, media sources, and the United States. Secretary Hillary Clinton has expressed serious concern over the perceived lack of civilian leadership in Syrian opposition forces. Secretary Clinton highlighted the lack of political diversity in the Syrian National Council (SNC), the group which represents the strongest Syrian civil opposition, stating that the diverse ethnic and religious groups fighting in the armed opposition are not adequately represented in civilian leadership.
Although these concerns may look distracting when seen in context of the constant bloody reports emerging from Syria, the Secretary raises an important concern. SNC is likely to be a leading party in the aftermath of this military struggle. Without adequate civilian representation, Syria risks falling into a country dictated by an ethnic majority or a nation torn apart by factions. Yet as the State Department wishes for better representation, Syrian rebel leaders and international news organizations are warning of possible radicalization of rebel forces. Multiple reports have stated increasing “jihadist elements” and international influence in the conflict. Given this information, the United States may be asking for more than reality can provide.
The Syrian situation offers an unique opportunity to see the mechanisms of statecraft in real time. In this present day test case, students of international relations can see how states use a multitude of foreign policy tools including public diplomacy, private negotiations, economic leverage, and international institutions to secure objectives ranging from the protection of human rights to the creation of a friendly regime. Also, it vividly displays that “international relations” is much more than a collection of state interactions but is a network of tremendously complex realities which play out not in theory but on human bodies.
Jacob Clark is a sophomore at Tufts University.