General Thoughts on the Syrian War

General Thoughts on the Syrian War


My policy prescription for US policy on the Syrian War has been, since it started to pop up on the news a couple years ago, to protect the Americans in the region and otherwise do nothing- let it sort itself out.

My thinking has been based on several counts:

1-We have no good options, no allies or even proxies to use. If Bashar Assad stays in power due to our intervention, we just helped an Iranian proxy keep Iran’s influence extended all the way to the Mediterranean.

If the rebels come to power due to our intervention, then

a) if they were to do so in 2011, then the ‘democracy’ we help them set up would be either picked apart by local foreign interests, or blown apart by the sectarian power struggles which doubtless would erupt between Sunni Arabs, Druze, Alawites, Kurds, etc;

b) if the rebels were to come to power any time after the conflict intensified, ie after 2011, then whatever ‘democracy’ we would have on paper by then would immediately be torn apart by the above-described impending sectarian war, perhaps resulting in a genocide against Assad’s people, the Alawites.

2- We are still engaged in a low-level global war with al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations, albeit a different kind of war than the one that was waged up until 2008-2009. That makes it no less deadly; and by providing aid to the Syrian rebels, we unalterably provide aid to al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria. When providing weapons to a coalition, you cannot ‘choose’ which groups to give weapons to; comrades-in-arms share supplies, and in any case, if our own weapons have wound up, against our wishes, in the hands of the forces of the Assad regime, there is literally no chance Americans can keep them out of the hands of the Jihadists among the rebels.

3-We have no interests or important threatened partners in the region. For all intents and purposes, we are no longer working with Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in Iraq; the Israelis actually feel more secure than ever, as they are more than capable of defending their territory from insurgencies, as they have had decades of practice in doing so, and they now no longer face conventional threats along any of their borders; the Egyptian military, while presiding over a chaotic state, is still the dominant force in Egypt and is not threatened by unrest in Syria directly; the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan, while threatened immensely by refugees and overspilling violence, and a loyal partner to the United States in the War on Terror, is not a keystone in our strategy; and the Turks are more advanced than any other state in the Middle East save Israel, and are capable of sorting out their own border problems regardless of an American intervention. Beyond all this, aside from the basic business interests we have in all countries, we have no particular economic interests in Syria. Our political interests are very hazily undefined, and in any case the dreams of a stable and democratic Syria do not appear to be serviceable by American intervention.

4-If we intervene, we run the risk not only of another Iraq or Afghanistan-style campaign, but one in which the Russians and Chinese are actively supporting the opposing side.

L-Now, I do not deny for a moment that the situation over there is brutal, unjust, and a threat to the stability of the world. I do not deny that the deprivation of life and liberty of over one hundred thousand Syrians is the greatest horror this decade has yet witnessed, and my wishes and prayers for an end to this turbulence go up to Heaven.

But, I am not of the opinion that the Western powers (for that is who would be acting, if there were an intervention) are of the power to do anything meaningful about it. All proposed ideas seem to be capable only of perpetuating the unrest through unstable political arrangements, none of which will be particularly conducive to American interests once a solution has ultimately been reached.

Instead, I believe it is time we Americans come to terms with our relative powerlessness to turn Syria into San Francisco, and recede to the proper role of the great power- that of manipulating the power structure to our benefits and, if they coincide with ours, the benefits of regional stability. As for Syria, we ought to let the factions involved and interested work this deal out.

A study of the foundations of powerful nations appears to show that greatness comes with great turbulence- gold is wrought in flame. The three periods which most critically shaped the United States- the Revolution to the War of 1812, the Crisis of the Union to the Civil War, and the Great Depression and Second World War, all featured great internal instability and international pressure, the solution of which in each case was a fundamental alteration of American power through the manipulation of geopolitics and governance. Three times, America was baptized by fire; and given the inconsistencies and insufficiencies of American power today, it is not clear that it will not undergo baptism a fourth time.

China, France, Russia, Iran, India, Germany, Japan- all these nations and more have endured similar periodic trials. The Muslim world lost its unity when the Ottomans fell, and the system and balance of power instituted to bring order to the resultant chaos has proved insufficient to stand up to the stresses of the post-Cold War and post-9/11 worlds. The Arab Spring was one manifestation of that insufficiency; new orders, new methods, are on the rise, and we will soon know the full consequences of this latest political evolution. There is no end to history; it merely cycles on.

The problem with international law is the rigidity it attempts to impose upon the nations of the Earth. Chilling though the thought may be, the Nazis were not wrong in their concept of lebensbraum, or ‘living space.’ They took it too far and turned it into an unwieldy and dangerous ideology; but the concept itself appears to be a principle which has played a role in many of the conflicts throughout history, though it appears that alliances and agreements tend to nullify its effects to a degree. In general, though, peoples tend to seek out living space for themselves and their groups, and historically have clamored violently over that agricultural blessing, land.

Moreover, the composition of Syria (and other states in the Levant, for that matter) is distinctly more sectarian and un-national than other states Westerners have dealt with. Egypt and Turkey are likely the most ethnically-unified states there, yet in times of turbulence they have experienced sectarian wars of dramatic brutality. The situation in Syria has been observed for quite some time to be brutally ethnicity-based, and is not likely to change anytime soon. The reality on the ground is a melting pot in which the ingredients do not mix well when stirred.

The solution to Syria will be decided in this brawl between interested factions, and it will almost assuredly be a result neither friendly to American interests nor pleasing to American morals. But if some Prince is ruthless and cunning enough, he may likely use this opportunity to usurp the status quo, and never return to the Syria that existed before 2011- he will manipulate, through force, influence, law, and every tool available to him, the political realities on the ground, and in the minds of men, and build a polity more lasting and more powerful than the feeble statelets which the dying empires of Europe crafted decades ago. The Islamic world has only known internal stability when its major geographic regions were united. It seems al-Qaeda’s goal of Islamic unification, and the similar goals of the Ba’athists, were not so crazy after all. But a caliphate from Malaysia to Morocco is not necessary; but a Leviathan capable of arbitrating disputes between warring clans or regions is. And such a tool is not constructed solely by political means, but requires significant development of infrastructure, defense technology, and indeed, a program for the expedited maturation of society. And indeed, if such a success (as Turkey and Iran aspire to become) emerges, it will not be a peaceful empire, but as equally warlike as all those other states which surround it and have preceded it; but its interior will know tranquility. Syria (and the Levant in general) finds itself in the position of the China which Sun Tzu knew, or the Italy Machiavelli observed.

It is for this Syrian statesman to rise, and like Nasser, Ataturk, and Khomeini, seek a new vision for his fellow men. His legacy will one day be both dark and bright. His followers shall be as controversial as those of any great man. Not everyone will win- be it the Israelis, the Iranians, the Turks, the Americans- someone’s feet will be smashed. An order peaceful all around is not so possible as Wilson might have hoped. How stark the lot of man. But if anything is to be done to solve Syria’s dilemma, it must be done by those involved.

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