Crown Center talk tackles Syrian conflict

Panel discussion to focus on unanswered questions and global implications


The Syrian civil war has raged for two years. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced. The conflict has spread across borders and international intervention is a matter of worldwide debate.  

Yet when it comes to understanding and resolving this bloody conflict, there seem to be more questions than answers. 

The Crown Center for Middle East Studies will explore some of these complex, thorny questions in an annual kickoff event Sept. 25, from 3 to 5 p.m. in Rapaporte Treasure Hall in Goldfarb Library.

“The Syrian Catastrophe: Regional Implications” will feature a discussion among Crown Center faculty and Frederic C. Hof, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and former special advisor for Transition in Syria at the US Department of State; Mona Yacoubian, senior Middle East advisor at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank; and Joseph Bahout, professor and researcher of contemporary Middle East studies at Sciences Po, Paris.

It marks the first time the Crown Center has dedicated an opening discussion entirely to one issue, says Shai Feldman, the Judith and Sidney Swartz director of the Crown Center and professor of politics at Brandeis University.

In this case, there is plenty to talk about. 

“It is impossible to anticipate what will happen in Syria,” says Feldman. “A month ago, the international community was uninvolved. A few weeks ago, the U.S. was debating whether or not to bomb Syria. Who knows what the next weeks will bring. We have a whole new set of questions to discuss on top of old, unanswered questions.” 

Feldman says Wednesday’s discussion will take a three-tiered approach, starting with local politics and violence inside Syria. “There are questions we have to ask about Syria before we explore the conflict’s implications for Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Iran and Iraq,” he says.

Questions such as:

  • Large chunks of the Sunni community have remained loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Why?

  • There have been reports of soldiers and officers defecting from the Syrian army but no reports of military units defecting. Why?

  • Assad’s agreement to give up chemical weapons has, in some ways, legitimized his power. What does that mean to rebel groups?

Answering these questions will enable the participants to consider regional implications, such as:

  • What does Assad’s continued hold on power mean for neighboring countries, such as Lebanon? 

  • Why have Hezbollah fighters flooded into Syria and how will the Lebanese people respond?

Finally, the speakers will offer a global perspective: 

  • How has the conflict impacted U.S./Russian relations?

  • Does Putin have an interest in seeing chemical weapons eliminated? Is this primarily about restoring his position as a world leader or is it about protecting Russia’s regional ally from attack? 

  • How will eliminating chemical weapons in Syria affect Putin’s major objectives to project Russian power on the world stage and to maintain a foothold in the Middle East?

Answering these questions may not be easy, Feldman says, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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