The Road To Damascus Leads Straight To Hell.
It has been a long time since I have fired up the computer to do one of these missives. My Internet life has been busy with Tom Foolery and the occasional blast on Taylor Marsh. But the events in Syria have gone from bad to worse, and it is past time to think about that corner of the world again.
The situation is this: the Free Syrian Army controls much of the ground but the regime owns the air. Neither of the parties has any real advantage but both sides are convinced they can win. That means the ordinary people of Syria are the big loosers.
The situation is much like Lebanon for the last part of the 20th Century, a long, slow, deadly civil where the major powers are helpless in finding a solution. In this round China and Russia are blocking any big ideas from NATO or the US. Local powers like Iran and the Gulf States are adding to the misery by supporting the two contesting sides in the Syrian debacle.
If that were not bad enough, non-state independent actors are now too in the fray. Our unhappy campers of the re-branded, and restaffed Al Qaeda are back in business in Syria. Granted, this is not your father’s Al Qaeda as Bin Laden’s bones have been picked clean by shrimp and other sea scavengers. No, this is a new bunch of Salafi radicals and misfits butchering for fun and profits.
But wait, there’s more! In the north of this fine mess, both the Kurds and the Turks are slowly being sucked into the vortex. The Kurds have been cut loose by the Assad regime because it can no longer support the troops needed to suppress the people of the mountains. With the Kurds now in charge of their own destiny ( if only by default ) Turkey now has to deal with the repercussions. The low, simmering conflict Turkey has with its own Kurds has once again flared up just when the Turks had thought they had finally squared the circle.
And if that was not bad enough for Ankara, Syria is shelling into the border of Turkey. National borders, national pride, are on the line for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and he has responded as any leader would, by sending in the military. The affected border is now bristling with Turkish soldiers and all that nice shiny military hardware that Turkey has been busily upgrading to.
Still, Ankara can not get too feisty as the Russians are close by with a Navy in both Sevastopol and in Syria itself. Russia can also reach the Turks by air if needs be and not violate any airspace other than the Turks in doing so. Erdoğan can only do so much saber-rattling as both domestic politics and the Russians are limiting factors.
I left out President Obama in this discussion because he has been remarkably reticent in offering any leadership on Syria. This is for a reason gentle reader; Barack’s options are very limited.
The position of the United States in Syria is very dicey. Obama did come out for regime change way back in the salad days of the Arab Spring. But now that the Spring has transitioned to a brutal, white-hot summer in Syria, the president has become far less enthusiastic about showing Assad the door. Washington has provided support for the Gulf State’s interdictions; but other than cloak and dagger work, the White House has studiously avoided more dramatic options. This is all to the good because DC already has its plate full with Iraq, Iran, the stealth war in Pakistan, plus the dust up in Aden. The military-industrial-congressional complex is stretched to to breaking point. Only fools and NeoCon intellectuals (pretty much the same thing) are gung-ho for an intervention in Syria. Nothing brought out this fact more that Willard Romney’s flaccid debate performance on foreign affairs. True to form Mitt criticized Barack but offered no counter proposal. When even Romney won’t touch Syria you know exactly how radio-active it is.
Because of that radioactivity, Syria will continue to suffer, bleed and die. The World Community will fold its hand and mutter “dear me” while the Iranians with the Russians and Chinese duke it out with the FSA and the Gulf States. The land of Syria will slowly bleed out as a form of the Great Game is played out. Assad wants to cling to power. The Iranians want the buffer Assad offers for both geo-political and religious regions. China and Russia want the Assad status quo for their own different reasons. China does not want US power projected into Syria as it was in Libya. Russia wants to keep its only presence in the Med. Meanwhile the conservative Gulf states want to kill off Assad and his Shia-lead state. They want this for matters of state- to push Iran back, and they want it to further enlarge Sunni Arab hegemony in the region.
It is that effort, the Saudi Salafist project and its attempt to enforce its brand of Islam on the rest of the Umma that is the real unexplored issue, the elephant in the room, that no one seems to want to talk about. I can think of no worse outcome than an emboldened, aggressive, hegemonistic, Saudi Salafalist Islam gaining even more traction. The reactionary, regressive and ultimately wrong-headed attempt to return to a mythical “pure” Islam of the past will only end in tears.
We are going to see this play out for decades gentile reader. Islam as a whole, and in the Near East even more so, is going to have to work out the long, nasty and brutal effects of colonialism. It is going to have to work out its issues with modernity. It is going to have to work out how fundamentally the world has changed. This is not just about Syria. It is about a culture sideswiped by one of the great wrecking balls of history and how it deals with the effects of the hit. The Calif is dead, the Ottomans are no more, wither Islam?