I was President of a College Democrats Chapter. Nobody cared about Syria.
How the present-day situation in Syria was predictable in early 2016.
A crisis looms in Syria. Years of turmoil and the culmination of them have led to this point. During my time as President of College Democrats in the Spring of 2016, I tried to get others more interested in U.S. foreign policy, specifically in the Middle East. While a few people seemed to enjoy it and participated, most were uninterested. While I respect the independent autonomy of my successors, foreign policy should play an integral role in political clubs like College Democrats and College Republicans.
In the Fall of 2015, the UD College Democrats, thanks to good leadership and Senator Chris Coons’ efforts, began to add foreign policy and diplomacy into their mold. Senator Coons hosted his presser on his “yea” vote on the Iran Nuclear Deal on the UD campus with Dems as a host and Coons then hosted another event with the CD’s and the UD Hillel Chapter to talk more about Israel and Iran soon thereafter. After I won my election, it was my goal to maintain this new precedent established by the last President & executive board. I also wanted to get other organizations and students (who liked international politics) involved. It did not go well.
In March of 2016, after Russia claimed they would pull out of the Syrian Civil War (though I had my doubts and it turned out to be untrue), I spent the bulk of a meeting drawing out and explaining a diagram of the alliances and countries involved in the Syrian Civil War at the time. Another board member decided it was okay to interrupt in the middle of discussing the diagram and publicly say that we would run out of time for the meeting if this discussion went further and reminded me that I invited a guest speaker. Another board member would later remark that the Syria diagram was a “cute idea” but ultimately not a productive use of meeting time. There was nearly unanimous support behind that statement.
In the same meeting, once the sides were drawn up (using Wikipedia’s cited and locked material), I brought up one of my concerns about the war. That concern was that once ISIS and the Syrian rebels would begin to lose momentum (which has now happened), the West must consider what to do with Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria-Russia-Iran-Hezbollah alliance. No one had anything to add.
Just a week before, one of the members of the J Street Advisory board was a guest speaker. UD’s Hillel chapter was allegedly “furious”, and I was told they would come. UD Police was called just in case. None of their members showed up to hear Rabbi Krantz give his speech. In 2018, We all know what is happening at the Israel-Gaza border, and Israel has now reportedly jumped in the Syrian Civil War. Hezbollah, who calls for Israel’s destruction, has been in the war already and is now possibly in direct attack against Israel.
I wrote TWO articles in the Review (UD’s student paper), about both Russia and Russia’s involvement in the same Syrian civil war. I was the only one on the Dems’ executive board who shared it on Facebook when they were published.
I supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Primary. Obviously, some members did not like that. But I never spent a meeting talking about the Bernie campaign at length, or why we should support him. Nor did I mention it without mentioning the Clinton campaign. Instead, I focused on other things (see above in bold), in addition to Delaware politics and national issues. I may have been a Bernie bro, but give me Hillary Clinton as commander-in-chief over Trump, any Republican politician, and several Democrats when it comes to Syria any day of the week.
One of the reasons Hillary Clinton had such strong support in and out of the executive board was not only her long list of credentials, but due to the long-overdue election of an American female President. Many members had a powerful stripe of feminist beliefs, a cornerstone of the Democratic Party. I get why members would want to focus on feminism over foreign policy. Sexism is a major reason why Hillary Clinton is not our Commander-in-Chief today. It has also been infuriating that Nancy Pelosi has been getting attacked by the Democrats, attacks which Bill Maher recently destroyed, who by the way, supported Sanders in the primary as well. I do not always agree with Dianne Feinstein, but I can appreciate what she has done for the party and for California since the Harvey Milk days. I certainly did not like Barbara Boxer’s attitude during the 2016 primary, but her record speaks for itself, especially on environmental issues. Other female Democrats in Congress like Rosa DeLauro, Tammy Baldwin, Nydia Velazquez, and Amy Klobuchar seem to never get the credit they deserve. And of course we all know how the White House has treated Maxine Waters and Frederica Wilson. I do believe that being a woman is a significant reason for this.
However, what I hope is that after Syria was discussed that night, one of our members went online and looked at some information about the conflict. They would have noticed that the United States’ main regional partner are the Kurds in autonomous Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan (also known militarily as Rojava & Peshmerga). The Kurds, who are not exactly Arabs but a moderate sect of Muslims and a hodgepodge of other non-linear ethnic groups and religions, are known for their progressive stance on women, with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in the frontlines fighting ISIS. None of these female soldiers appear to wear hijabs, let alone a burqa, and some wear makeup and do their hair and nails before fighting, in what appears to be a symbol of female liberation in the region but also tactful trolling of the Islamic State. It has been a tough fight of course, but I wish at least one of our members (no one in particular), looked into it and had brought it up then. Given the reception of my presentation, I did not have the courage to bring it up. In any case, feminism of a U.S. ally would have been a thoughtful follow-up. True feminists care about feminism everywhere, not just in the United States. And while the Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit may not be well-known to everyone, the Islamic State’s violence and oppression against women was and should be part of the mainstream conversation. If anything, a feminist should be intuitively enthusiastic about a conversation regarding Syria. Yet somehow, these feminists were not.
Which leads me to my final point. As my time in college comes to a close, I do think it is important to give suggestions to the next College Democrats’ and Republicans’ leaders. Domestic policy is important, as is state politics (which I did not appreciate until I got to college). But politics is about foreign relations as well, and I encourage all CD and CR chapters across the nation to discuss foreign policy and the affairs of U.S. allies. This includes women’s rights, environmental issues, trade, military cooperation and wars, immigration, extradition conflicts, and so on. Those efforts to raise awareness can be powerful right then and there, but if conflicts intensify and escalate, they can be seen as perhaps even more noteworthy than before.