The torment continues in Syria, if anything accelerating. The conflict appears to be burning through the remaining areas of the nation creating another refugee crisis on top of the one that has already swamped neighboring nations Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Europeans are now forced to deal with it.
Into this a new combatant, Russia, has started bombing. The conflict has only intensified as a result. Where will this go?
The short answer is that there is apparently no end in sight simply because the nature of the conflict has an ability to morph as more and more of those involved have an interest in creating chaos. Syria is devolving into the kind of scorched battleground reminiscent of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, which is in itself an example of history not quite learned.
The arrival of Russian planes this month was supposedly for a new multi-national effort to stop ISIS. As usual, Putin was not to be taken quite at his word as the planes started not only bombing non-ISIS rebel positions but doing so in a way that is coordinated with advancing Syrian regular army troops.
Russia’s support for Assad is nothing new so at some level there is no reason to be surprised by this effort. But the arrival of Russian planes and their direct involvement in such a conflict is something very new. It came as the non-ISIS rebels were pushing deeper into the regime’s territory and on the verge of a clear advantage in this conflict for the first time. This is what created the new refugee crisis.
But if Russia is willing to intervene, does that mean that Assad will eventually push the rebels back? That seems unlikely and, given the Russian duplicity, almost dangerous for Russia as it would lay their ambitions out in the open. It makes much more sense that Russia is interested in merely keeping the conflict going, which is to say preventing the fall of Assad and maintaining the situation more than promoting peace and stability.
Chaos is a Russian victory, once again.
The reason for this is simple when you look at why Russia cares about the region at all. What they fear more than anything is a pipeline from the Persian Gulf to Europe carrying natural gas – which is still flared as a “waste product” from many oil wells. Russia’s support for Assad has always been primilarly about stopping such a pipeline, a position Assad was more than happy to provide.
The civil war is about the same as a friendly government in terms of preventing any pipeline or other development in the region.
More than just Russia, however, the Saudis who armed the rebels gaining ground against Assad also have an interest in chaos that is roughly equal to a victory. Their goal is to keep Iran tied up through their support of Assad and prevent them from creating havoc anywhere else in the evolving Sunni-Shia war in the region.
That gives us at least two parties to this conflict who will be happy to see it continue to burn. That is what it does, too, gradually sucking in the nation into one large battle field.
The last time the world saw a conflict like his was during the Thirty Years’ War. That episode completely depopulated large parts of Europe as one party after another joined in for their own twisted reasons. For many of them, prevention of a “win” by the other side was as good as a clear win, so the conflict continued for a generation.
The net result of that war was the Treaty of Westphalia, which developed the idea of a “sovereign” nation that no other nation was to interfere with. It’s a concept with us to this day with a few glaring exceptions. Most notable among them are the times when a group of rebels is backed by one nation or another in what should reasonably be a civil war that quickly becomes something much larger.
It’s happened before and it continues to happen – despite “sovereignty”.
As it stands now Syria is emptying out to become one large battlefield for a wide array of foreign supplied and trained soldiers fighting it out. We haven’t seen something quite like this for 400 years. The last time this happened everyone had to agree that it was time to stop messing around with each other so that it would not happen again.
History doesn’t quite repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.