Truth be told, I have no idea why there is a civil war raging in Syria. Or even if it is a civil war, when the parties themselves don’t think of in those terms (at least I don’t think they do). After all, there is the government, both under attack and attacking. And then there is a broad array of opposing parties, some of whom are allied with each others, some of whom are not allied but are cooperating with each other, and some of whom are fighting each other. Does this make for a civil war. Or does it just make for anarchy.
Well, it certainly makes for chaos and for unbelievable suffering by and harm to the population of the country. So many people are refugees out of the country, so many more have been forced to leave their homes, even though they remain in Syria.
It didn’t used to be this way. Sure, Syria was not America’s (or Israel’s) friend. It was in a strange position because, while it was in so many ways able to dominate its neighbor to the west. Lebanon, it was equally dominated by its neighbor far to the east, Iran. It became the major conduit for Iranian arms and Iranians to move to Lebanon where they created a threat (sometimes choate and sometimes inchoate) to Israel.
But it did seem stable. After all, even Israel thought it stable enough to suggest that at some point conversations might be in order for the return of the Golan Heights (one of the world’s more beautiful locales) to Syria (from which it was wrested in 1967). And it was fairly prosperous, with travelers reporting a friendly country, filled with sites of historical interest.
And, like Baathist Iraq, Baathist Syria was secular. Or at least its government was secular, and its secular government was able to hold at bay the varying religious groups in the country. In part of course, this was the case because Syria was far from a democracy, and its government was quite harsh and despotic.
But something happened.
Bashir Assad, like his father, is an Alawite, a member of a sect of Shiite Muslims. Most of the country, on the other hand, is Sunni. The opposite, say, of Iraq, the other Baathist Arab country, where Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, ruled a country that was majority Shiite. And it is clear that the majority of those fighting Assad are Sunni (just like the majority who fought Saddam were Shiite).
But among the Sunnis, there are differences of opinion, and differences of belief. Al Quaeda is a Sunni organization, and it entered the fray in opposition to the more modern and western oriented Sunni rebels. And Hezbollah, supporting the Assad regime, is Shiite.
This much I know, but what to do with that information, I don’t know. The Sunnis and Shiites, dating back to the generation after Mohammed, are bitter enemies. We are not going to convince them to be friends. Our Arab “friends”, the Saudis, the Gulf States, etc., are by and large Sunni. Our enemies, starting with Iran, are largely Shiite, including the new government of Iraq (which we of course basically put in place).
So, it looks like we are allied with the Sunnis and opposed to the Shiites although we will never state it in those terms. But this means that if we can weaken Shiite influence west of Iraq, and develop a strong relationship with the Sunnis, perhaps we can ease our own tensions, and help the entire region. A western/Sunni alliance could even help the Israeli-Palestinian problem, as the Palestinians are almost all Sunni. Then, since everyone needs enemies, it appears, we can also concentrate on those dirty Shiites, who will be convinced that Iran and Iraq is enough for them.
Dumb idea, you say, totally impractical. Shows a total lack of understanding of the situation.
Undoubtedly true. I don’t understand the situation. But then again……neither does anyone else.