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What Should We Think About the Syrian Civil War?

As Syria enters its third year of civil war, Marc Lynch summarizes the findings of a workshop he convened at George Washington University’s Project on Middle East Political Science. Participants included civil war scholars, Middle East scholars, and Syria specialists. The prognosis for the Syrian civil war isn’t particularly good:

The fragmentation and infighting of Syria’s opposition is, again, typical of a certain type of civil war — the type least amenable to diplomatic resolution, most open to unconstructive foreign meddling, and least likely to produce post-war stability. This fragmentation was built in to the early nature of the uprising: The revolt broke out across the country in a highly localized way, with little real centralized leadership or institutional cohesion. And as the University of Chicago’s Paul Staniland argued, that initial lack of cohesion has proved impossible to reverse: “Once a parochial structure is in place, factional unification is extremely challenging.”

Contrary to what some have been suggesting there may have been nothing we could have done to avert the bloodbath there at any point in the conflict. I found this observation particularly interesting:

The foreign support for the Syrian rebels has thus predictably produced what Schulhofer-Wohl views as the worst of all possible worlds — it has extended the fighting, made compromise more difficult, and increased the dangers of rebel infighting, while also facilitating the rise of extremists. “Military aid to the Syrian opposition has sustained its fight against the al-Assad regime,” he argued. “In this military posture, the rebels ensure their survival against the regime but lack the ability to defeat it in decisive battles.”

since it hearkens back to what I was saying early on in the conflict. Diplomacy is unlikely to bring a quick ending to the conflict, there has never been a truly good course of action for us with respect to that conflict, and it might be more prudent of us to identify and execute strategies for mitigating the suffering of those made refugees by it or the damage the continuing conflict will wreak on the region than aiding the rebels or searching for a diplomatic solution in what has become the bloodiest civil war in today’s world.

Read the whole thing.

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About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging.

Comments

  1. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This seems to be one of the cases where the more each side kills of the other, the better off everyone is. Sucks for the innocents, because both sides seem quite willing to kill them as well as each other, but there really isn’t much we can do to prevent or even mitigate that.

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  2. rudderpedals says:

    Read the whole thing.

    Good suggestion, good read. Depressing. Syrian strife rhymes with the ongoing sectarian violence in Burma, Africa and elsewhere. It’s too much to expect the contenders to keep their fingers off the button.

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    There is a temptation to think of the Syrian civil war through the lens of a great power proxy war. There are elements of that in play to be sure but that isn’t what’s really going on there. Most of the “foreign intervention” that keeps the ball in the air is local—another battle in the sectarian war that’s been going on for more than a millennium.

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    Dave, I think you have the wrong link.

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  5. dazedandconfused says:

    Somebody asked Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House intell committee, a very intelligent question the other day. “What did the intelligence community get so wrong when they predicted Assad would quickly fall?”

    He relied that they didn’t anticipate the support he got from Russia and Iran, which seems to me to be possibly still wrong, might be the underestimation of the domestic support he got was the bigger mistake, but the information here is that “everybody” now knows that prediction was wrong, and the policy’s set early in the conflict almost certainly aren’t what we have now.

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  6. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You’re right. Fixed.

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  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    From the POV of foreign powers – Saudi, Iran, Russia the US – it’s all but impossible to keep hands off. Despite what the earlier link suggested with its warning against seeing this as purely Sunni-Shia terms, that’s still going to motivate the Saudis and Iranians. It can’t help but do so in much the same way that every conflict during the Cold War was seen as part of the West vs. Communism. The Iranians and Saudis can hardly avoid seeing it in Us vs. Them terms, Sunni v. Shia, and once that’s decided it follows inevitably that both regional powers will want to affect the outcome. How can they not? Simply cede Syria to Shia-allied Assad when there seems to be an opportunity to win one for mainstream Islam? Of course the Saudis (and their Emirates dependents) would jump in.

    The border states, Turkey, Jordan and poor Lebanon – have their own issues, obviously. The temptation to want to do something to stop the flood of refugees, as well as the desire to choose the neighbors you’re stuck with, becomes irresistible. How can you be Jordan and refuse to allow Saudi arms into Syria?

    And then there’s us (including western Europe) and the Russians. There are genuine humanitarian concerns, there are concerns about PR-humanitarianism by which I mean the desire to avoid seeming indifferent, there are concerns about Israel, about Turkey, about Lebanon, about international terrorism. In the case of the Russians they’re heavily invested in Assad, they’re feeling dissed by the world at large, and have their own domestic religious stuff going on with the Orthodox church.

    So, yeah, everyone jumping in didn’t help and probably makes things worse, but at the same time staying out was never possible for the Saudis and Iranians, and nearly impossible for the Russians, or for us and our allies. The problem is it’s Syria. If it was Bolivia or New Guinea no one would give a damn. But an inherently fragile yet heavily militarized regime literally attached by geography to a whole host of pre-existing wars, feuds and power struggles? Of course the world was going to get involved.

    I would guess the outcome will be a long, awful slog that will have its own rhythm of greater and lesser intensities, probably for a decade or more. But of the possible outcomes, I’m not sure that’s the worst for us. A clear Assad win is a win for Iran and Hezbollah. A clear rebel win could end up being a win for the most intolerant iterations of Islam and a new home for Al Qaeda. A negotiated settlement would probably just be a pause to reload. So, failing a miraculous awakening of decency and common sense, isn’t that best?

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  8. Stonetools says:

    I hate to say it but now I think it’s best for Assad to win- even if it does mean that Iran can now project power into the eastern Mediterrean in a way it could not before.

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  9. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    As Fouad Ajami has written, those are the lands of “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger” so what’s the surprise.

    Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. What you have is a hope.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @11B40:

    Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. What you have is a hope.

    Actually I find Christianity to be a far bigger pain in my ass on any given day. It’s not Muslims who insist on closing my mall on their holy days, or limiting sales of beer because Jesus doesn’t want you drinking on Sunday, or raping young minds and thus poisoning the future with asinine myths and despicable bigotries. Like, for example, talking about eradicating other religions.

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  11. 11B40 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Greetings, michael reynolds: ( @ Friday, December 27, 2013 at 13:29 )

    Michael, michael, michael, my former dark-eyed beauty (though, to confess, the studly photo version certainly becomes thee), your comment brought to mind a bit of humor from my psychology studying daze. It had to do with those Rohrshach (ink-blot) tests. The therapist asks the psycho what he sees and the latter says “A foot.”. The perplexed doctor asks that he be shown the foot and the psycho points to one little squiggly bit at the very edge of the ink-blot.

    It may very well be that Christianity may not be the cause of the pain in your, ehem, “ass”. Perhaps all that cranium stuffed in there is a significant contributor to your problem. If you can convince yourself that Christianity is the cause of your alcohol (An Arabic word, no?) deprivation, wait until your Muslim brothers and sisters get their chance to set you on the right path to Allah. And, I would advise dropping all the rectal references. Those people don’t care much for that kind of humor either.

    Looking forward to reading you in the Happiest of your New Years.

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  12. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Actually I find Christianity to be a far bigger pain in my ass on any given day. It’s not Muslims who insist on closing my mall on their holy days, or limiting sales of beer because Jesus doesn’t want you drinking on Sunday

    I have no doubt what Christians do to limit your freedom on the day to day is a bigger problem given the relatively small Muslim population relative to Christian population in the US. I seem to recall you living in the Bay Area. I lived in the Bay Area for a bit a few years ago and don’t recall any Christian imposed limits on my freedom. Prop 8 did pass while I was there, so that was a Christian limit to freedom. I don’t recall any blue laws when I lived there, so unless you live in one of a handful of counties you shouldn’t have problems buying alcohol at pretty much any time you like.

    raping young minds and thus poisoning the future with asinine myths and despicable bigotries. Like, for example, talking about eradicating other religions.

    Islam is every bit as good as Christianity on that score.

    @11B40:
    The real difference between Christianity and Islam regarding limiting the freedom of the general population is the societies that constrain them. Christianity is constrained by a secular civil society that keeps many of its excesses in check. Islam in many places does not have that same constraint and so its excesses are more apparent. Take a look at Uganda for a peek into what happens when Christianity is not held in check by secular civil society.

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  13. 11B40 says:

    @Grewgills:

    Greetings, Grewgills: ( @ Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 00:53 )

    I don’t think that we’re all that far apart in general but for every Uganda there’s a Mali and a Central African Republic and a Nigeria. If you’re looking for some relief for homosexuals, I don’t think that the Islamo-camel is what you want to put your money on.

    Until Islam, that ideology in the Koranny thingy that comes straight from the Allah dude via one of his angel boys and his final propheteer, is attacked its practitioners will use that sanctuary to continue to attack the rest of the world.

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  14. Grewgills says:

    @11B40:
    If your looking for fairness for homosexuals you shouldn’t put your money on any of the worlds major evangelical religions, so the bulk of both Islam and Christianity are both out.

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  15. 11B40 says:

    @Grewgills:

    Greetings, Grewgills: ( @ Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 12:35 )

    Well, on this I can see some separation. If you think that there’s some similarity between Christianity’s “Love thy neighbor” and Islam’s “Throw them down from high places”, I don’t think that I have the words to convince you otherwise. Or, perhaps, there’s out and out-er ???

    I don’t think that anyone anywhere will find “fairness” for homosexuals, for the fault lies not in their stars. But I would gladly settle for some responsibility from homosexuals. Ofttimes, I wonder to myself why Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud or the AIDS epidemic never seem to show up in these discussions of homosexual “rights”.

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  16. Grewgills says:

    @11B40:

    Well, on this I can see some separation. If you think that there’s some similarity between Christianity’s “Love thy neighbor” and Islam’s “Throw them down from high places”

    You have succinctly mischaracterized both religions there. The Crusades and the Inquisitions were not very loving of their neighbors, not even their Christian neighbors much less others. Jesus and Mohammed were both philosophers well ahead of their times, if not up to ours. Their followers have used them both for all manner of good and bad.

    I don’t think that anyone anywhere will find “fairness” for homosexuals, for the fault lies not in their stars. But I would gladly settle for some responsibility from homosexuals.

    What do you mean by this? What responsibility is it they need to exhibit that they have not exhibited up to this point?

    Ofttimes, I wonder to myself why Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud or the AIDS epidemic never seem to show up in these discussions of homosexual “rights”.

    The short answer is because they are irrelevant to the discussion of homosexual rights and when they are brought up it is by people that fundamentally misunderstand evolution and AIDS or by people that still hold to outdated psychology.
    Slightly longer answer:
    AIDS was not and is not a gay disease. It was not brought into the human population by homosexuals. People that still hold to that are either ignorant and holding onto information from the 1980s or looking to support their own bigotry.
    Evolution is silent on homosexuality. There is plenty of bisexual and homosexual behavior found in the animal kingdom. It existed before humans and will likely outlast us. Darwin doesn’t factor in.
    If your psychologist or psychiatrist is Freudian, find a different one. He did some ground breaking work about a hundred years ago, but he projected far too many of his personal neuroses onto mankind in general.

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  17. Grewgills says:

    @11B40:
    To be a bit more succinct, why not choose, “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” to characterize Christianity and “Forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you, and speak the truth although it be against yourself” for Islam?

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  18. 11B40 says:

    @Grewgills:

    Greetings, Grewgills: ( @ Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 14:38 ) &
    ( @ Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 14:46 )

    Well, as Maurice Chevalier might have sung had he survived, “Thank Heaven for little Crusades and Inquisitions for without them what would little Islamophiles do?”

    If you haven’t noticed, Islamaniacs routinely justify their outrages based on the Koranny thingy and the teachings of their Imammies and Idaddies. When have Christians last done that ???

    As to the evolution argument, just because something occurs in nature doesn’t mean it isn’t a dysfunction. Whether we know its cause or not also doesn’t make it otherwise. Because a rather effective cabal has spent the last 50 or so years trying to limit all discussion of it to the positive doesn’t make that so either. The only responsible place I see for the discussion to start is with the dysfunction. Name-calling and appeals to compassion, while certainly effective in our low-information era are not the path to the truth. Responsible behavior is not the death knell of freedom.

    As to your “AIDS was not and is not a gay [men's ???] disease.” assertion, that’s a bit of takkiyya that would make an Imammy proud. That bit of low-information covers years of public health subversion and co-option that led to the spread of the epidemic by members of that demographic who at the depths of the epidemic wanted their “bathhouses” left opened as part of their homosexual “rights”. And all the while caviling why the government wouldn’t ride to their sexual and health rescues while the rest of society was directed to live around what their dysfunction had wrought.

    Or, perhaps, it was spread by returning Crusaders or under worked Inquisitors ???

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  19. Grewgills says:

    @11B40:

    Well, as Maurice Chevalier might have sung…If you haven’t noticed, Islamaniacs routinely justify their outrages based on the Koranny thingy and the teachings of their Imammies and Idaddies…

    1) Your arguments might have slightly more force without the baby talk.
    2) I am not, nor have I ever been an Islamophile or any type of religiophile. If anything, I am an evidencebasedargumentophile. Religions in general and particularly the evangelical religions elevate faith above reason. That is the inherent danger of religion. When we are making decisions about how best to run a society, particularly a large advanced society, it tends to turn out better when base those decisions on reason rather than faith.
    3) Where Islam is constrained by a secular civil society we don’t see many abuses. Where Christianity is constrained by a secular civil society we don’t see many abuses. Where we see Christianity or Islam unconstrained by a secular civil society we see many more abuses. This is true of all of the major religions I have seen.
    4) Christians also based their abuses on religion and you don’t have to go back as far as the Crusades or the Inquisitions to see it. Again, Uganda is an excellent modern example. That there are more theocratic or near theocratic Muslim states now than there are theocratic or near theocratic Christian states now is not because Christianity is inherently less prone to theocracy. Look at the vast majority of Christian history if you have any doubts about that.

    As to the evolution argument, just because something occurs in nature doesn’t mean it isn’t a dysfunction. Whether we know its cause or not also doesn’t make it otherwise. Because a rather effective cabal has spent the last 50 or so years trying to limit all discussion of it to the positive doesn’t make that so either.

    Just because an old book says something is a disfunction doesn’t make it so. Just because something is different than you or different from the majority doesn’t make it a disfunction. You have done nothing to show that it is a disfunction beyond simply asserting it is so.

    As to your “AIDS was not and is not a gay [men's ???] disease…

    That the first case we know of that brought the disease into the US was a gay man does not make it a gay disease. Heterosexuals brought syphilis to Europe. Is syphilis a hetero disease?
    Christians brought smallpox to the Americas. Is smallpox a Christian disease?
    HIV/AIDS began in Africa and that is one of the places it is most prevalent today. Look how it was and is spread there. Here’s a hint, it’s not by gay sex.
    In Sub-Saharan Africa we can also find some of the most ridiculous and virulent misinformation on AIDS. That misinformation is spread primarily by the religious leaders, including Christian leaders. That has done tremendous harm to the effort to contain the disease. On the advice of religious leaders men refuse to use condoms even when they know they are infected. Those men then pass it on to the women they have sex with.
    That you continue to forward the long since debunked trope that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease demonstrates a rather large lack of knowledge on the subject.

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  20. majorheadrush says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: that maybe the stupidest thing ive ever heard…. not because its not true but because as usual you forget the war isn’t between islamists and assad its between the innocents you talk about and assad… the islamists are just as usual the first to stand up and put their lives on the line. And I wouldn’t be too sure about this prevailing attitude and hatred of islamists…. people have a right to their religions and they have a right to their oppinions and 95% of Syrians are muslim and its not really like its surprising that some of them think a muslim state would be preferable to this idiot dictator they have now.

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