ISIS: THE SYRIAN MESS PART TWO
The Syrian Mess: Part Two
By Al Emid
Author Journalist Broadcaster
The Glamourous Life of an Author
An already very tragic mess in Syria became far worse with this morning’s news of Russia’s huge offensive there. A reader or viewer could understandably wonder what to make of the fighting in Syria (and the infighting about Syria) for at least two reasons: the situation’s very real complexity and the nature of news coverage which often focuses on the aspect at hand to the exclusion of other factors.
In this one country there are several wars going on simultaneously. Meanwhile, two of the major players – the United States and Russia are currently keeping their own hostilities to a war of words and desperately avoiding even the possibility of combat hostilities. American commanders recently diverted two aircraft flying over Syria to ensure they could maintain a safe flying distance from a Russian fighter aircraft in the same area, according to CNN. American pilots have been under orders to change their flight path if there is a Russian plane within 20 nautical miles, according to an official speaking to CNN.
In this post I’m going to work through some of the players in hopes of clearing up at least some of the confusion. As always, available space precludes treating everything and everyone and prohibits listing all of the details for each one. I can only treat some of them and leave the others for another day and another post.
Russia – in the news today and likely for some days to come — led by President Vladimir Putin sees the situation as a chance to demand a place at the bargaining table and to re-assert Russia’s place on the world stage. It has long backed Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and needs him as a friend in the Middle East. It also opposes ISIS and fears that ISIS-trained jihadists will return home and cause trouble on Russian soil. At time of writing, at least some of its airstrikes and missile strikes seemed more targeted at rebel locations than ISIS strongholds.
Putin’s decision to become so directly involved has put Russia at center stage but Russia would likely not want a long term involvement in Syria, at least partially because memories of the Afghanistan quagmire have not completely dimmed. Moreover, Russia’s economy, affected both by economic sanctions and falling oil prices, would probably constrain any repetition of the long drawn-out Afghanistan-type of military adventure.
Iran also supports Syria and Assad and his government and at least outwardly opposes ISIS.
The United States called for the ouster of Assad in 2011 and would still like to see him gone from the Syrian Presidential Palace but currently wants ISIS gone even more so the ISIS crisis has allowed Assad to buy time at least for as long as the crisis continues. In a written statement carried in The Washington Post and other publications in August 2011 – slightly more than four years ago and before the ISIS crisis — President Barack Obama declared “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way …For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Last week at the United Nations, Obama said that “… defeating (ISIS) requires, I believe, a new leader.” However, taking recent statements by Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry into account, the U.S. want ISIS gone first and then Assad afterwards
The U. S selectively backs moderate rebel forces but has temporarily cut back on its plan to recruit and train 5400 fighters. Of the small number trained so far, some have been killed, some have fled and some have surrendered their weapons to ISIS. The original plan had called for vetting, training and arming 5400 fighters who would agree to focus on ISIS not on Assad.
Britain opposes both Assad and ISIS and backs moderate rebel groups but due to opposition in Parliament has limited its involvement in Syria.
France also backs moderate rebel forces and opposes both Assad and ISIS.
Saudi Arabia stands categorically against any Russian effort to keep Assad in power and plans to boost aid to Syrian rebels if other powers do not start pushing Assad to the door. It has participated in air strikes with the coalition.
Qatar finances and equips anti-Assad groups and allows use of its air base for coalition operations.
Turkey participates in the U.S.-led coalition, opposes ISIS and minimally backs rebel forces in Syria. It allows the coalition to use its air bases and has permitted supply routes across its territory. It has protested Russia’s intrusion into its air space.
Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and of course many European countries have taken in Syrian refugees.
The above factors lead to several possible outcomes, some of them mutually exclusive but I suggest that at least some of them will unfold in time:
– The Middle East will continue being the world’s most unstable region – with the exception of some areas such as the Gulf countries which hopefully will continue their role as regional safe haven;
– Whenever peace comes to Syria – and it will not be soon – the country’s borders will be very different from pre-war boundaries;
– With factors as they stand at time of writing, the Islamic State, as a geographic entity, stands to continue with much of its current territory intact for at least the short- and medium-term;
– The impact of the refugees will continue for as long as the crisis continues and the crisis shows no sign of immediate resolution;
– Russia will not want to keep up the current level of military engagement indefinitely;
– These equations may change when the next American President moves into the Oval Office;
– Barring an about-face by the next President, the United States will have a much reduced claim on its historic role as the world’s policeman; whether Saudi Arabia, with or without the United Arab Emirates, will want to take on the role of regional policeman also remains be seen.
Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press later in Fall looks behind the news about ISIS and what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book set for release in early 2016.