Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Syria Won't Go Away

They didn't learn from Afghanistan. But, what am I saying, we haven't learned anything from Afghanistan either.

If we're backing al-Qaeda, we shouldn't be there.

Putting up a link to this monograph from the Army War College that I haven't read yet. Don't want to lose it, tho.

My understanding before I do is that on one side is Assad, Russians, Iran and Hezbollah. On another side is ISIS, al-Qaeda and some rebel groups. PKK Kurds are also against ISIS. Turkey is against Assad, but also ISIS and the PKK. At this point, I have no idea who we are aligned with or whom I would want to see us aligned with.

At the moment, the Assad government seems to be making some gains, and the rebel forces are split into three broad groups of the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front (backed by the Gulf States), and two al-Qaeda groups (Al Nusrah and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]). ISIS has alienated all the other factions and is likely to retreat to Iraq, but the Al Nusrah Front is operating in a loose alliance with the Islamic Front.


This resurgence may be a temporary phenomenon, with al-Qaeda taking advantage of the chaos in Syria, the weak government response in Iraq, and the simmering discontent in other Muslim countries that has followed the Arab Spring. Their recent gains are substantial, but there are reasons to doubt if al-Qaeda’s power and appeal within the wider salafi-jihadist movement, especially in Syria, can be sustained. Here, different coalitions have recently disavowed al-Qaeda and, in some cases, are in open conflict with its militias. There is a case to argue that al-Qaeda has managed to exploit an opportunity but lacks the ability to broaden its appeal sufficiently to make long-term gains.


Despite the attention paid to the resurgence of alQaeda, the bigger problem dominating the Middle East scene is the escalation of the Sunni-Shia divide. This split is reflected in the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and, in turn, has an international aspect as Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy Muslim civil war, particularly in Syria.

Do we want to be in the middle of a Muslim civil war that's been going for 1500 years? I can't imagine why. 

If the apparent resurgence is to be understood, then paying careful attention to what is, sometimes lazily, labeled al-Qaeda is important.

It's not your father's al-Qaeda. 

Every religious terrorist is not necessarily a member of al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda does not represent all groups within the global salafijihadist movement. These differences are becoming increasingly apparent in Syria as the civil war rages on and fluid alliances are continually being made and broken within the opposition to the Assad regime. Jihadism in Syria is revealing the fault lines between al-Qaeda and other Sunni freedom fighters and may give us a better indication of whether al-Qaeda is surviving, transforming, or slowly dying.

The reason they're able to operate in Syria, Libya and Iraq is because of the anarchy there. Solve the anarchy and deprive them of a safe base of operations. Easier said than done, of course.

Juan Cole has dissuaded me from the idea that leaving Assad in power is any kind of solution either.

I should explain that with Syria, I”m just trying to analyze. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I despise the al-Assad regime, which is genocidal and has engaged in mass torture. But I absolutely refuse to support any group allied with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda or which envisions Syria as a hardline 

Salafi emirate where Christians, Alawites, Druze and Kurds (altogether maybe 40% of the population) as well as secular Sunni Arabs (another 45%) are second class citizens ruled by a self-appointed morals police with machine guns.

I have a sinking suspicion that my position on al-Qaeda as a red line is not shared by some high US officials. If I am right about this, they should be ashamed of themselves and go back and read about the origins of al-Qaeda in 1980s Afghanistan. US-supported jihads have a way of biting us on the ass.

Good and bad in today’s Syria is also contextual. Having the Baath Party or its goons, the Shabiha, rule religious Sunnis is bound to cause inequities. But for the fundamentalists to conquer Alawite Latakia or the Druze regions would result in an enormous tragedy.
Ultimately Syria can only be healed by democracy and the separation of religion and state. Neither the regime nor the rebels get this, and there is no guarantee they ever will.

I suppose it makes me feel better that Juan Cole has found no one to get behind either. 

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