Friday, November 9, 2012

Serious Problems, Syria's Solutions?

No.  These people do NOT like each other
The bloody civil war in Syria seems to be entering a new phase.  It started out as a political disagreement with a sectarian component and became a revolution, and as the people rushed to choose a side it became a protracted civil war.  But now so much blood has been spilled, and so many people have been horrifically affected that it is shattering into a factional free-for-all that will create divisions and hatred between and among the various political, ideological, ethnic and sectarian population groups that will take decades to heal, if they ever do at all.

Meanwhile, as refugees abandon their lives and homes and stream to the relative safety and desperate poverty of camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the world comes together in an orgy of finger-pointing, racing to blame one another for all the things that are not being done to help.

But it's odd that in the global firestorm of blame and counter-argument there is so little specificity.  What is it, exactly, that "we" should do?  For that matter, just precisely who are the "we" that are supposed to actually, you know, do it?  Fund the refugees?  Arm the rebels?  Enforce a no-fly zone?  The fact is, that there are precisely two resources the global community can bring to bear on the disintegration of Syria - Money and Violence.  There doesn't actually seem to be a desperate lack of funds - the logistical challenges of using them to deliver effective relief in the region, coupled with the inevitable local corruption, seems to be absorbing the charitable resources to the point of saturation.  Meanwhile, the entire area is awash in weapons, and while the rebels probably do need some specialized gear, particularly anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and encrypted communications, they are not struggling to bring effective firepower to bear on the hardcore remnants of the Syrian armed forces.

That leaves violence.  The world could pick a side, presumably the rebels at this point, and provide them with an overwhelming military advantage.  The loyalists would quickly read the Libyan writing on the wall and the regime would collapse, much the same as it is doing now, only somewhat faster.  The real problem happens then.  There is no credible, competent leadership to step in and fill the void, there is vast distrust, ideological and sectarian disagreements and outright ethnic hatred among the factions that would find themselves on the "winning" side.  The only functional governing institutions would be those that were in place when the revolution started, and they would be considered untrustworthy, and many will even be prosecuted and executed.

As an interesting historical aside, peace only truly came to Lebanon after the Syrian army occupied it and enforced the peace with an iron fist.  Very likely the same would be true of a post Assad Syria, but who will be the guarantor of such a peace-at-gunpoint solution?  In another world, it might be Iran, but any aggressive move by Iran across her borders would quickly draw a massive military response.

Like Iraq and Afghanistan after foreign invasion, like Libya, Sudan and Somalia after civil war, like the decades-long futile search for peace in Northern Ireland and the ongoing, seemingly endless nationalist and sectarian hatred in the Balkans, these things truly have no end.  There is no agreement, no national consensus to end the fighting and re-build a nation.  There is only factions, one strong enough at any time to take power, the others continuing to use violence to try to gain that power for themselves.  As long as there are tribes and religions, money and weapons, nations torn apart by violence will struggle mightily to find a way to put themselves back together again.  And it doesn't help that these "nations" are just a set of arbitrary boundaries drawn by white colonists with no sense of the diversity of the populations. Afghanistan, for example, can never have a national consensus because it is a nation in name only, a group of incompatible tribal regions being told to see itself as a single people, and that is simply unrealistic.

Just as we have seen over the years from Ireland to Bosnia, religious identification is often predicated on hatred of other sects, and one of the things that gods and godlets from Zeus to Mohamed to Yaweh agree on is that it is good, and necessary, to kill the apostates - in large numbers and without mercy.  In Syria it is no different, with the Shiites and Christians aligning themselves with the Alawites out of fear of the Sunnis and their fundamentalist allies.  How can peace come until these various religious sects can agree to work together to build a nation?

The more you think about it, the less there is that the world can do in Syria.  The best we can offer at this point is to provide enough firepower to reduce the Assad government's ability to bomb and shell entire neighborhoods and slaughter non-combatants in large numbers, and make sure there is enough food and medicine available to the nations hosting the refugees.  And at that point stay out of it and hope that, at some point, humanity triumphs over hatred.

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