Western news media outlets have paid considerable attention to the civil war in Syria, but much of the coverage is simplistic and melodramatic. Too many accounts portray the conflict as a Manichean struggle between the evil, brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad and noble freedom fighters seeking to create a new, democratic Syria. The reality is far more complex and murky. Syria’s turmoil has troubling, long-term implications not only for that country but for the Middle East as a whole, and even for the international system. The searing images of civilian casualties coming out of Syria have been hard to watch. Several thousand innocent people perished between the eruption of resistance to Assad’s regime in March 2011 and the beginning of 2013, with no end in sight. There is little doubt that government forces were responsible for the majority of deaths. The prospect that Assad might be overthrown is understandably appealing to Westerners from a moral standpoint, but the West needs to be fully aware of the potential for unintended, and possibly quite unpleasant, consequences.

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