The Multi-Dimensional Civil War in Syria

Explosions rocked Damascus yesterday that almost struck the Interior Ministry. More than a million Syrians are refugees. Russia and the United States will enter talks about the endgame, should one ever arise in the nearly stalemated two-year-long civil war.

Image courtesy foreignpolicy.com

Image courtesy foreignpolicy.com

Secretary of State John Kerry announced on April 21 that the United States would send another $123 million in aid to Syrian rebels we like, supplying them with “body armor and night-vision goggles.” It was been official policy since last summer that the Red Line triggering intervention by Washington would be any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, which may or may not have already happened, depending on reports. As for the reported use of chemical agents, particularly sarin gas, Washington is reticent to jump full-force into another Middle Eastern theater in the name of containing WMDs. “Suspicions are one thing,” said defense secretary Chuck Hagel. “Evidence is another.”

Anne Barnard summarizes the current state of the conflict as one in which information is a “strategic weapon.” The crisis managers in Damascus are too sophisticated to know that their public relations image has steadily deteriorated, so now they seek to convince American officials that they share a common enemy: increasingly extreme Islamists that have infiltrated the ranks of the Syrian rebellion over the course of its two-year campaign.

How naïve it was to think that long-entrenched power clans could be uprooted peacefully in the heady days of “the Arab Spring.” In fairness, the violence began by the state.

In a Foreign Policy magazine report on April 17, Bashar al-Assad in a televised interview declared that Syria is the victim of “a Western plot to recolonize” the country. “There are big powers, especially Western powers [undoubtedly referring to the United States, Britain and France] who historically never accepted the idea of other nations having their independence,” Assad asserted.

Courtesy LA Times

Courtesy LA Times

From an editorial in the Lebanese periodical Daily Star, on the same day, Rami Khouri reiterated that the civil war in Syria is “the greatest proxy battle of our age,” one comprised of “at least six separate battles”:

(1)   “a domestic citizen revolt”

(2)   “the Arab cold war,” which “at its simplest” pits the Saudis against the Egyptians — meaning the forces of extreme religiosity versus the more modern, secular forces as represented by the original Tahrir protests

(3)   “the old Iranian-Arab rivalry”

(4)   “the renewed but more limited version of the Cold War between the United States and Russia”

(5)   “the centurylong [sic] tension between the power of the centralized modern” Arab state versus sectarian/tribal forces

(6)   conflict among the opposition between the Salafists viz. Nusra and secular mainstream rebels who are backed by the West

Khouri cautions that “none of these simplistic black-and-white dichotomies” are “fully accurate,” of course. Doubtless that similar delineations were made among and between the partisans of the Spanish Civil War, which was the ultimate proxy battle of an earlier age.

A few days ago, Hwaida Sa‘ad and Rick Gladstone reported, dateline Beirut, that the “fighting between Syrian insurgents and government forces in Aleppo left one of the Middle East’s most storied mosques severely damaged on [April 24], its soaring minaret toppled by explosives. Each side accused the other of responsibility for the destruction at the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo’s walled ancient city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.” (My emphases added, above and below.) Sa‘ad and Gladstone continued,

The mosque is considered an archæological treasure but has been a battle-ground for months. It was first heavily damaged by fighting last October, and President Bashar al-Assad promised a restoration. But the military later re-treated from the mosque and rebel fighters have occupied it since early this year. Syria’s state media [SANA] said the Nusra Front, an Islamic [sic] militant faction of the insurgency, had placed explosives inside the minaret, which dated from the 11th century. Anti-Assad activist groups at the site posted You-Tube videos showing the rubble of the collapsed minaret strewn about the mosque’s tiled courtyard, with rebel fighters saying it had been hit by outside artillery fire as part of an attempt by Assad’s forces to rout them and retake the mosque.

[…] The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 Syrians have been killed and millions displaced since the conflict began as a peaceful protest against Assad’s government in March 2011. It is now a civil war that has pitted his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, against an opposition drawn largely from the Sunni majority. The fighting has threatened to destabilize Syria’s neighbors, particularly Lebanon, where the power-ful Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, which supports Assad, has sent fighters into Syria.

Bashar al-Assad and his regime routinely refer to all opponents fighting his soldiers as “terrorists.” However, there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. Like many things, it is in the eye of the freedom fighter. With respect to the most effective fighting force in the ranks, Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front), the US State Department agrees with Bashar. It is also reported that the FBI is recruiting fighters for the Nusra and then arrests them. The civil war grinds on without any political settlement in sight, nor with any consensus among the regional actors about what comes after the downfall. The longer this goes on, the more “radicalization” there is likely to be. Sic semper tyrannis.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Multi-Dimensional Civil War in Syria

  1. Nice post Alex. Love that bit from the Daily Star on the different battles being waged.

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