Syria has been a popular topic for United States (US) news reports in regard to the level of violence being experienced in the nation and the use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons and the US/international response to these events. The Syrian civil war has become such a cultural issue in the US that the popular prime time television shows, such as NCIS, had recently aired an episode that dealt with events in Syria. The episode in season 12 titled The Enemy Within focused on two young American's (a male and female) who became radicalized through traveling/working in Syria, later attempting to perpetrate terrorist attacks in the United States. Because of the fact that the conflict in Syria has been raging for years, and the fact that if this conflict continues it is very likely that Syria will fall into failed state status. It is important that US policy makers (and the general public) have a clear understanding of why the violence is occurring and the personalities of the rulers of Syria.
The nation of Syria is ruled by Bashar al- Assad, the most recent leader of the Assad Dynasty. The al – Assad dynasty began with the rule of Hafez al- Assad ruled Syria “from the time an intra-Baath party coup brought him to power in 1970” (Lesch 2012, p. 1) Before coming to power in an attempt to cement power over the Syrian government, Bashar took a position with the the Syrian military “He moved quickly through the ranks of the military, reaching the equivalent of brigadier general by the time of his father's death. In 1998, the all-important Lebanon portfolio was taken from Vice President Abd al-Halim Khaddam (who was not happy about it) and given to Bashar.” (Lesch 2012, p. 2) All of this was done to prove that Bashar was/is the undisputed leader of Syria.
Bashar al – Assad officially became President of Syria “On 11 June 2000, one day after his father died, Bashar was unanimously nominated by the ruling Baath party as president.” (Lesch 2012, p. 3) During the early days of Bashar Assad's rule it appeared that he would become much more liberal than his father had been, allowing the Syrian people more freedoms than they had previously enjoyed. During his inauguration speech there were indications that things would change, for example “By Syrian standards, it was a remarkably enlightened speech, and it even went so far as to criticize certain policies of the past under Bashar's father. It served to confirm the suspicions among many inside and outside Syria – especially the pro-reform and pro-democracy elements – that Bashar was indeed a breath of fresh air who would lead the country in a new direction. In his speech, he made economic reform a clear priority; indeed, the frankness of his criticism of the previous system was unprecedented.” (Lesch 2012, p. 4)
While the Syrian population had great hopes for the Presidency of Bashar al – Assad, the political situation continued to deteriorate in Syria throughout the 2000s, leading to pro-democracy demonstrations (part of the Arab Spring movement) that began in 2011 “Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall.” (Rogers, Gritten, Offer, and Asara 2015) As violence continued and spread, Syria descended into civil war, “Violence escalated and the country descended into civil war as rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of cities, towns and the countryside. Fighting reached the capital Damascus and second city of Aleppo in 2012.” (Rogers et al 2015) Additionally, violence in Syria is attracting insurgent groups that are seeking to enter the civil war “Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Isis are pushing into a southern district of Damascus in a bid to cement a hold in the Syrian capital, activists and members of the group said.” (Solomon 2015) Both Syrian rebels and ISIS are attempting to put pressure on the al – Assad presidency hoping that this will force Bashar to resign. As of now it is unclear how this will improve the current situation in Syria and what sort of government will be put in place. Another pressing element of the Syrian government is the fact that Bashar Assad is not the sole ruler, the entire Assad family is somehow involved with the ruling process. As the entire Assad family is involved in ruling it will not be possible to offer an analysis of Bashar Assad himself, any analysis will need to take into account family input.
As with all at-a-distance profiles all information regarding Bashar al – Assad, Abu Bakr al – Baghadadi, and ISIS will be taking place through the case study of printed material, such as the biographies of Syria, Bahar al – Assad, ISIS, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, this will include newspaper articles, books, and professional journals. This case study will also include public addresses, interviews, and news programs.
The method of at-a-distance profile will be cognitive mapping; this is due to the fact that cognitive mapping deals with the decision making process of a decision maker/political leader during a time of crisis. “Cognitive mapping, by producing a representation of how the client thinks about a particular issue or situation, can thus act as a valuable technique for helping Operational Researchers.” (Ackerman, Eden, and Cropper) It is important to identify how and what decisions will be made during a time of crisis. During this period Syria is going through an extended period of crisis with a civil war raging and with ISIS attempting to exploit the violence to gain a food hold in that nation. Based upon making process of Baha al- Assad and Abu Omar al- Baghadadi.
The geopolitical situation in Syria has been deteriorating since that nations civil war began in 2013, in an attempt to end the violence the al – Assad regime is alleged to have used WMD (chemical weapons). While Bahar al – Assad has denied these allegations the international community has investigated and found evidence that WMDs were in fact used.
“(U)nequivocal report which confirms that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in the 21 August attack in Ghouta. The inspectors were not asked to determine culpability for this attack. But from the wealth of technical detail in the report including on the scale of the attack, the consistency of sample test results from separate laboratories, witness statements, and information on the munitions used and their trajectories it is abundantly clear that the Syrian regime is the only party that could have been responsible for using chemical weapons on 21(2013) August. Nothing in the UN report contradicts the conclusions of the Joint Intelligence Committee last month: on the contrary, the new evidence increases our confidence that the regime was to blame." (MENA Report 2013)
United Nations investigators found evidence that supports the theory that the ruling party of Syria was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. Additionally on August 26, 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the “use of chemical weapons in Syria was "undeniable" and "morally obscene." Syrian regime has the capacity of chemical weapons, Kerry told reporters on Monday, and added that additional information on the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be shared in the upcoming days. President Obama is actively consulting with the Congress over possible responses to Syria, he said, stressing that Syrian regime continued to hit the regions, where chemical weapons were used, to destroy the evidences. The regime's offer of the inspectors' access to the site was too late to be credible, he added.” (Epstein 2013) The Obama administration has been taking steps that would assist Syrian opposition to the al – Assad regime by sending troops to assist with training of rebel forces. As of January 2015, “The US aims to train more than 5,000 rebels annually for three years. It marks an expansion in the US training of Syrian rebels which began in March 2013 in Jordan.” (BBC News 2015) These steps have been taken as a response to the use of WMDs by the ruling regime in Syria and an attempt to end violence and hopefully stabilize the geopolitical situation in Syria.
As Syria falls farther and farther toward failed state status, sectarian violence continues to spread across Syria opening up the nation to insurgent groups that are seeking to spread more military forms of Islam. This includes the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS “has drastically increased its operations in Syria. It is one of the most influential and well-funded groups there, and one of the most brutal.” (Charles River Editors 2014, p. 38) The reasoning behind ISIS's involvement in Syria “Their ultimate goal continued to be the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the Levant, and what was once a faraway dream suddenly seemed entirely feasible as ISIL began conquering town after town and city after city in both Iraq and Syria.” (Charles River Editors 2014, p. 40) While the situation in Syria is grave and deteriorating, the rule of Bashar al- Assad did not begin with such contention and violence. Syrian society looked at their new President as the hope for the Syrian people.
The Assad Dynasty has ruled Syria for “for four decades” (Parvaz 2012), for the most part the Assad's rule was popular among the Syrian people. Assad rule began with “Hafez al-Assad, a military man, rose through the ranks and became Syria's president in 1971 after a bloodless coup which saw a military takeover of the dominant Baath party. By all accounts, Assad tightened the state's dictatorial grip on the population, focusing on strengthening the country's military and intelligence forces.” (Parvaz 2012) Whereas Hafez worked his way up to rule of the nation, Bashar was born into family influence, and power, one of Hafez's gifts to the family was to ensure that ruling Syria was a family business, “It's a mafia; the family rules as a family," says someone who was formerly allowed glimpses into the Assad regime's inner sanctum. "No one knows the exact workings, but they are closing ranks more and more.” (Ali and Addley 2011) The Assad family is completely in control of the Syrian government, meaning that there is no one in government which will have the ability to counter and/or stop brutal tactics undertaken by the Assad family. “The Assads hold more than just the presidency of Syria. Bashar’s brother Maher is head of the Presidential Guard, whose tanks and snipers rolled into Daraa in April to crush all protesters who stood in their way. Then there are cousins Andan and Muhammad, who are heads of Damascus-based militias. And of course brother-in-law General Assef Shawqat, who is head of military intelligence. You get the idea – the means of repression are a family affair.” (New Internationalist 2011). Unlike other dictatorships, most notably the Putin Regime in Russia and the Kim Regime in North Korea where there is one leader that has the final word on all decisions, the Assad Regime in Syria is run by the Assad family. As there is no one is a position to question the regime or the leadership, the Assad family can rule the nation with one iron fist that will ensure that the Assad family will never lose power.
Analysis Cognitive Mapping:
Assad family patriarch Hafez al-Assad was able to come to power and remain in power due to membership in the minority Alawite sect. The Alawites are a “secular off-shoot of Shiite Islam that is considered by most Muslims to be heretical, had, for centuries, been an oppressed minority in the area that came to comprise Syria.” (Lesch 2012, p. 2) Hafez managed to solidify his (and his family's) rule over Syria with a 1982 “Hama massacre, in which the Muslim Brotherhood party was targeted for a spate of assassinations of high-profile Baathists. The massacre, carried out allegedly under the supervision of Hafez's younger brother, Rifaat, involved a bombing campaign as well as door-to-door operations, which, by some accounts, resulted in nearly 40,000 deaths.” (Parcaz 2012) This indicated that Hafez an by extension his family were not afraid to get their hands dirty when it came to defending Syria from a Sunni sect of Islam (also the majority sect of Islam). Based around this cognitive mapping has the ability to explain the decision making process of decision makers, in the case of Syria.
Basically explained cognitive mapping is a method that is used to identify how a decision maker views a problem. Once it is understood how a problem is viewed, additional steps can be taken in an attempt to identify how a decision maker will approach solving said problem. “Cognitive mapping, by producing a representation of how the client thinks about a particular issue or situation, can thus act as a valuable technique for helping Operational Researchers.” (Ackermann et al 2008) As is the case with Hafez Assad, coming from a minority sect of Islam, he would have had a dim view of the dominant sect that did everything possible to keep minority sects in subordination. That has the problem, how to go about overturning the power balance in Syria was the solution. This was done by taking a hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hafez was successful in this aspect as he was able to destroy the Brotherhood, cementing his power base and the power base of his family/the Assad Dynasty. Not only can cognitive mapping assist with outlining how a decision maker views a problem it can also be “relevant because cognitive maps can take into account the complexity and comprehensiveness of the system in which [the behavior] is embedded while maintaining access to the analysis” (Komocar, 1994). The value of the tool is instrumental (Audet, 1994) because it allows the actors to both improve their actions and to make sense of them.” (Nassreddine and Anis 2014) Cognitive mapping also has the ability to assist the decision maker in making sense of his or her decisions. While Hafez Assad was well known for taking decisive military action when necessary, Bashar was seen in the early days of his presidency as the hope of Syria. Evidence of this can be found in Bashar's inaugural address which “promised wide-ranging reforms, including modernizing the economy, fighting corruption and launching "our own democratic experience". (BBC News 2014) After this address “It was not long before the authorities released hundreds of political prisoners and allowed the first independent newspapers for more than three decades to begin publishing. A group of intellectuals pressing for democratic reforms were even permitted to hold public political meetings and publish statements” (BBC News 2014) It would appear that Bashar Assad saw and understood the mistakes that had been made by his father and was determined to make the necessary changes to bring Syria into the modern age. What is not clear is what caused this modernization movement to change and for Bashar to return to old policies of his father.
What is known, “By early 2001, the intellectuals' meetings began to be closed down or refused licenses and several leading opposition figures were arrested. Limits on the freedom of the press were also soon put back in place.” (BBC News 2014) A simply answer to the reasoning behind this change is that Bashar felt that he/the family was losing power and authority over the Syrian people and chose to return to the tried and true methods of political rule. What is known is “For the rest of the decade, emergency rule remained in effect. The many security agencies continued to detain people without arrest warrants and held them incommunicado for lengthy periods, while Islamist and Kurdish activists were frequently sentenced to long prison terms. Any economic liberalization benefitted the elite and its allies, rather than creating opportunities for all.” (BBC News 2014) This change allowed for Bashar and the Assad family to maintain rule over Syria. Again, while it will not be possible to identify the reasons that Bashar Assad had for reversing himself and returning to authoritarian rule, cognitive mapping may have played a small part in the decision. While Hafez Assad felt the need to prove his ability to lead with strong and decisive military action against the Muslim Brotherhood, Bashar Assad may have created his own methods toward solving the problems of Syrian society, as he took steps to offer more liberalization, Assad power and control was starting to wane. With this occurring, the decision was made to re-solidify Assad power.
As Bashar Assad worked to maintain his and his family's authority over Syria, the Syria people became increasingly dissatisfied with Assad rule. This dissatisfaction resulted in a civil war that began in March of 2011 was the result of the restrictive actions taken by the Assad regime. In this case, Bahar Assad saw that he and his family were losing authority over Syria due to the ease in restrictive practices of the previous regime. As such he made the choice (to solve a problem) to reenact those procedures, which did nothing but anger the Syrian population even more which led to more violence that was met with violence on the side of the Syrian government desperate to regain control.
In addition to continued unrest in Syria that shows the ability to destabilize the entire Middle Eastern region. The Assad regime is also guilty of using chemical weapons on rebel groups. “Hundreds of people were killed in August 2013 after rockets filled with the nerve agent saran were fired at several agricultural districts around Damascus” (Rodgers, Gritten, Offer, and Asara 2015). The international community put pressure on the Assad regime to destroy and additional chemical weapons. President Assad was wise enough to realize that attempting to retain WMDs would result in military action by the US/UN destroyed his stock of weapons, however there has continued to be reports that some type of chemical weapons are still being used. Again, from a cognitive mapping point of view President Assad saw a problem, which being civil wars, his attempt to solve this problem through the use of chemical weapons put him at odds with the larger international community. To solve this problem he agreed to destroy his WMDs, instead he kept some of the weapons for future use. As his immediate problem is with the civil war, not potential future actions undertaken by the US/UN.
On a final note, the Assad family is part of the Alawite sect of Islam, a minority sect. As violence is Syria is continuing insurgent groups are jumping into the war in an attempt to destabilize Syria and the Assad regime farther. This move is made in an attempt to place a Sunni majority ruler in place in Syria.
Events in Syria continue to be of concern not only for the United States government in relation to military deployments in Iraq but also due to the fact that a failing state in Syria have the ability to destabilize other nations in the middle east.
In addition to this, an unstable regime is in power in Syria. Instead of having one all-powerful ruler, Syria is ruled by the Assad regime with Bashar Assad at its head. This being the case it will not be possible to offer an analysis of Bashar due to the fact that all Assad family members will have an influence on the decisions that are made. The one thing that is clear, the more that violence spreads, the more the Assad regime attempts to show strength and fight back against insurgent influences.
Part of what makes cognitive mapping such an interesting theory for intelligence profiling is the fact that it allows for a decision maker/political leader the ability to identify a problem and take steps to change the issue in the future. Hafez Assad was a strong and capable leader. His lead was backed by fear. When Bashar came to power, he was given the ability to change how his father ruled, Bashar did for a short time allow Syria to become more open and free. However, it would appear that the Assad family noted that the more freedom they allowed the Syrian people to have the less power the family was able to maintain. This issue was solved by becoming equally if not more restrictive than the previous leader.
This return to a more repressive society led to revolting against the Assad regime which led to an all-out civil war. This civil war led to human rights abuses on both sides. Those fighting were willing to open fire in populated civilian areas with little to no concern for the safety of civilians. In addition to this, the Assad regime was willing and able to use chemical weapons on rebel groups. Even after they have been threatened by the international community Syria continues to use WMDs. Violence in Syria is so out of control insurgent groups have jumped into the war seeking to take over control form the minority Assad family and instead place a caliph in place. How this will work remains to be see. What is known is that violence in Syria will not end anytime soon.
An additional issue that is of note concerning violence in Syria is attempts by ISIS to gain control of the nation. If this were to occur, the Syrian government would be controlled by a religious group. How this would impact Syrian relations with the international community would remain to be seen. However, it is unlikely that the international community would accept an insurgent government as a legal government and therefore Syria would have no ability to interact with the international community. Much like the Taliban in Afghanistan.
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