Syria’s Civil War Can’t Be Solved Or Understood Through The Lens Of American Politics.
Don’t be fooled by the teleprompter reading talkin-heads on the news. Don’t give credence to the thoughts on Syria by petulant Trump-bashing commenters rampaging all over social media. The proper context for honest discussion on the Syrian conflict requires and admission of darker truths about Islam and a conflict that has been raging since Muhammad died in 632AD.
The Syrian civil war is just another flashpoint in the inner-Islamic civil war, a conflict that has been around longer than the United States, and will likely continue long after all of us are dead and gone.
For basic context to everything that happens in the Middle East, here’s the oversimplified origins of how Islam broke in two. When Muhammad died in 632AD his followers spilt into two sects. Shi’ite, who believed Muhammad’s cousin Ali should succeed him based on bloodline, and Sunni, who believed an election and consultation should determine his successor. While this sounds like a singular issue, for some reason this divide has caused Muslims to kill each other in civil wars for almost 1400 years. Inner-Islamic civil wars have continued in this Syrian region ever since 656AD. From the original Kharijite assassins (Muslim puritan extremists) to the depravity of the Iran-Iraq war, its been more or less the same teams facing off over and over on various battlefields across the Middle East. Now lets jump forward a millennia.
The Modern Syrain Conflict Break-Down As It Concerns America
Assad with the help of Iran and Russia are snuffing out Sunni opposition, which also happens to be tied to ISIS. If the US helps the Sunnis fight Assad, they might as well be helping ISIS, if they help Assad fight the ISIS, they might as well be helping Iran establish control over Syria. The point being, there are multiple groups killing each other in the name of politics and Islam, and there is no choice American leadership can make that will result in less killing. The US needs to be willing to take a side in the inner-Islamic civil war (I’m not about to speculate on which side that should be), or bow out completely and let them continue to kill each other in horrific and barbaric ways. We missed a possible opportunity to help make the Mid East somewhat stable when we pulled out of Iraq in 2011 because of a campaign promise, leaving huge power vacuum. But even that stability likely would not have lasted for more than a generation.
No one knows for sure if the presence of American leadership or the absence of it, will ever help the Sunnis and Shia get along in the Mid East. We like to believe that we can “forge peace”, but the reality is that there can never be lasting “peace” in Islam. The faith is predicated on tenants of struggle, adherence, and submission. If a Muslim is not fighting the lesser and/or greater jihad, they are not following Muhammad. Seeking out this struggle is the duty of all Muslims. It is foolish for Americans to believe that an American president could “solve” this conflict. Sure we can “take out” evil dictators and attempt to prevent genocides, as well we should. But to have the hope that doing so will lead to some kumbya “peace in the Middle East” is misguided.
The pandora’s box is open, Middle East intervention and the debate over refugees and immigrants will require some tough decisions with zero political appeal. There are drastic humanitarian consequences to nonintervention. If we bow out and let the inner-Islamic bloodshed swell, the west can not be the open arms receptor for the millions of fleeing Muslims. Our societies will suffer greatly if we accept the flight of Muslim migrants without the expectation assimilation and reformation within their faith. Without a Islamic reformation their conflicts will follow them wherever they go.
The other option is to pick a side. On one side you have the Shi’ites, this would be Assad, backed by Iran and the Russians. Images of the Ayatollah chanting “death to America” in front of large crowds should come to your mind. A few decades ago it appeared that part of the Shia world was reforming itself and westernizing, but that changed almost overnight when the Shah was ousted by radicalized college students.
The other side is the Sunnis. They have been more amenable to reaping the benefits of oil sales to western countries. (Compared to Iran’s oil sales to Russia and China) Saudi Arabia is generally thought of as the center of the Sunni world, due to Mecca and Medina being within its borders. But does the Suadi Prince’s amenable oil trade offset the inhumane and deprived tactics of Sunni extremists? i.e. Al Quaeda, ISIS, and prior to that the decades long reign of terror by Sadam Hussein. While Sadam Hussein was actually a moderate Sunni in practice, he was a genocidal dictator controlling a majority Shia country. As we see now, democracy does not equal stability in a country whose boundaries were drawn by western nations without regard for the varying Muslim populations. (Iraq was created by the British after WWI, and rewarded to King Faisal for helping beat the Ottomans)
So on one side we have an Ayatollah yelling “death to America” with Russia by his side. On the other side we have an Islamic State committing genocide and spreading terror around the globe. The choice is not good in either direction, and when compared to non-intervention, neither seems like a path toward less bloodshed for westerners. So what are American and European leaders to do?
The first step is to admit that America can not and will never be capable of forging “peace” in the Middle East. The most we can do is dispose genocidal dictators and hope that those who replace them are less violent. But this dictator-dethroned-powervaccuum-unrest-dictator loop will be perpetual. Until a reformation within Islam, the 1400 year struggle will continue. The major difference between non-intervention and picking a side is the responsibility of accepting refugees, immigrants, and the potential threats among them. If we pick a side, we obligate ourselves to the acceptance of their refugees and will inevitably be complicit in any atrocities committed by the partnering denomination. (Much like the way Russia is complicit in Assad’s actions)
Our options are bleak, and the consequences put our civilization on the line. When Americans make claims like Bush went into Iraq for oil, Obama caused Syria, or Trump’s just Putin’s puppet in the Middle East, it shows no understanding of the larger conflict. Rather it exemplifies an ignorant American-centric view, that petulantly places our political grapplings onto a millennia old conflict.