08 November 2013

Polk Report: Understanding Syria (1)

Attached is an excellent primer on Syria -- its history, culture, and nature of the ongoing civil war.  It is written by my friend and historian William R. Polk.  He has given me permission to post it ... I strongly recommend that viewers take the time to read it carefully -- it is long, but well worth the investment.

Chuck Spinney

Part 1 of a three part series
By William R. Polk
November 6, 2013

1. Geographical Syria

Syria is a small, poor and crowded country. On the map, it appears about the size of Washington State or Spain, but only about a quarter of its 185 thousand square kilometers is arable land. That is, “economic Syria” is about as large as a combination of Maryland and Connecticut or Switzerland. Most is desert, some is suitable for grazing but less than 10% of the surface is permanent cropland.

Except for a narrow belt along the Mediterranean, the whole country is subject to extreme temperatures that cause frequent dust storms and periodic droughts.  Four years of devastating drought from 2006 to 2011 turned Syria into a land like the American “dust bowl” of 1930s. That drought was said to have been the worst ever recorded, but it was one in a long sequence: Just in the period from 2001 to 2010, Syria had 60 “significant” dust storms. The most important physical aspect of these storms, as was the experience in America in the 1930s, was the removal of the topsoil. Politically, they triggered the civil war. (continued)