Sunday, July 21, 2013

Syria Impossible

And a Cocktail
Two things are absolutely true about Syria's political future.  First, Bashar al-Assad's Alawite Ba'ath regime cannot be permitted to retain power.  His brutal slaughter of his own people, his contempt for their ideological and economic aspirations and his refusal to permit any kind of political process, even to the point of mass murder has stripped his government and his party of all legitimacy.  Secondly, at the same time, the greatest risk to regional peace is the fall of al-Assad's government.  At that point a bloody civil war becomes a horrific free-for-all, with each faction, bolstered or resisted by the rump loyalist military and their massive weapons stockpiles, will turn its guns on all the others. Local nations from Qatar and Saudi Arabia to Turkey and Jordan to Iran and Iraq will rush in to try to put a lid on the wildfire ignited by a true leadership vacuum in Damascus, and the stage will be set for a regional war.  Meanwhile, the US, NATO, Russia and China stand poised just outside the war zone, armed to the teeth and prepared to protect their "interests", however they choose to define them.

In a sense, al-Assad is serving as a stabilizing force, keeping the outsiders out and limiting the scope of the war to a fairly simple to understand two-sided civil war.  About the only thing that Islamists, Secularists, Christians, Kurds, Communists and Sunnis agree on is that the Ba'ath loyalist regime and their Shi'ite supporters are the enemy.  As soon as there is no loyalist regime, that one point of concurrence will have been eliminated and blood will spill everywhere.  It's not even clear that there is a basis for any of the factions to work together with any of the others, and to whatever extent 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' comes into play it will be a temporary truce - every small victory resulting in a realignment of factions and targets.

These sorts of wars are what you have in a world with superpowers, nuclear weapons, resource wealth and instant global communications. Nationalist factions no longer necessarily hold sway, and many of the organized groups fighting these conflicts have priorities above and beyond the establishment or preservation of a nation.  There are ethnic, tribal and sectarian groups fighting for primacy and economic dominance more than anything else, and as Afghanistan so graphically demonstrates, holding political power in the Capitol is meaningless in the larger context of the conflict.

In the '90s during the Balkan wars we all became familiar with the term "ethnic cleansing", as it became the poster child for these kinds of sub-national and trans-national wars that are now the norm, to the point where they are the only kinds of wars that are even possible.  With the dominance of air power, satellite surveillance and long range missiles it has become impossible to put an army in the field and fight a conventional maneuver war to take  and hold territory.  So the only possible end-game for these modern conflicts where multiple factions fight for varying goals might be some kind of voluntary division of territory that allows the factions to stand up a community and a government in their own vision.  There is, of course, so much wrong with this approach that it probably can't even begin to work - which territory has the resources, which governments treat their people in an unacceptable fashion, how to prevent border wars from breaking out constantly - but what people are demonstrating clearly is that they simply cannot find it possible to live alongside one another in a diverse population, tolerating the differences in ideology and religious beliefs in the name of peace and prosperity.

So we conclude that it is unacceptable for Bashar al-Assad to remain in power in Syria, and that it is unacceptable for Bashal al-Assad's regime to fall.  Thirty years ago in the movie "War Games", the computer Joshua observed:

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Worth thinking very seriously about today.


1 comment:

  1. Nationalist factions no longer necessarily hold sway
    Considering that most of the "nations" where this sort of crap is going on are artificial entities w/ borders drawn for the benefit of European powers, it's surprising it took so long for such places to fall apart.

    impossible to put an army in the field and fight a conventional maneuver war to take and hold territory
    This hadn't crossed my mind, but it seems to make sense. Oh brave new world of terror of by & for anyone who can get C-4.