After a bewildering week of events and non events, no one can honestly say they know what is going on with our policy in or toward Syria.
Perhaps most people are already bored and the news media has returned to the standard fare of politics as usual. Domestic politics is not my cup of tea. In fact, like most people these days, politics are a rapid turnoff. I suppose this works in the Administration’s favor. Putin threw out a life preserver to Obama and he grabbed it in unseemly haste. Of course, Putin did not do it as a favor to Obama whom he takes every opportunity to humiliate, and unfortunately our country as well.
So why did Putin do it? Russia wants stability, and a really large scale U.S attack on Syria had unforeseen consequences with possibly a series of sectarian and religious explosions around the Arab and Islamic world.
In the 50’s and 60’s the Russians promoted instability because we were the dominant power in the Middle East and it was our interest to maintain the lid on. Now the situation is reversed. American influence has declined so precipitously, and the Russian’s risen so quickly that it is in their interest to maintain a sort of equilibrium. So, rather than risk the consequences of a face -saving act of war instigated by the outsized Obama ego and his personal pique, Putin gave Obama an out. Luckily he took it.
In the meantime certain facts are slowly surfacing. The Assad regime does not have the military power to regain complete control over all Syria. Their loyal forces are too small. The Alawis are a small minority and while many Sunnis do not want to see Assad go down, they are not willing to die for him. Meanwhile, the Shi’a of Lebanon are not totally on board with Hezbolah’s participation in this war and as some reports suggest, are increasingly unhappy with being involved. Recently there have been few reports of Hezbollah involved in the fighting, perhaps indicating they have pulled back a bit.
The recent rebel attack and capture of Ma’aloula, a small Christian town in Syria, where the people still speak the ancient language of Aramaic., the language of Jesus Christ. It appears that the Islamist rebels simply swept into the town firing celebratory shots into the air. There was little resistance. Now, the regime forces have counter-attacked but the situation is unclear. Ma’laoula has little strategic value and that is why it was so weakly defended. Nevertheless, it obviously has great propaganda value to the rebels and they promptly put out videos of the “conquest.” It particularly struck me because I visited there in the mid 90’s spending time in one of the ancient churches.
The lesson is that the regime forces are stretched thin and they are unable to defend all the territory of Syria.
On the other side, the rebels are unable to destroy the Assad forces, not because they lack the people or even the weapons. This is not a high tech war nor a war of heavy weapons. The “flow” of US- supplied weapons to the rebels will make very little difference. It is like most of Obamas moves, a theatrical gesture. Syria is already awash in weapons. Anyone can obtain them.
The problem of the rebels is a totally fragmented command and control over disparate religious and sectarian factions. They are at its each others throats most of the time. Were Assad removed, total chaos would ensue, with the Islamists eventually most likely to come out on top. A recent captive of the rebels, just released, described his captors as disorganized, equally motivated by religious zeal and desire for plunder.
The point here is that, given the lack of some catastrophe event, e. g. death of Assad, the stalemate will continue with a continuing flow of refugees to the the neighboring counties with increasing hostility between the refugees and the host nationals. Money by the West or Gulfies will only ameliorate an increasing volatile situation.