When Syrians, swept up in the once-transcendent spirit of the Arab Spring uprisings, undertook their own revolution against the corrupt, myopic regime of Bashar al-Assad, few had any idea it would lead to the dystopian reality of massacres and foreign predations the country faces today. The revolution – a legitimate, democratic uprising against a despotic government – provided a prize opportunity for the country’s neighbours to violently exploit Syrian unrest to further their own venal interests.
The tragic result of this situation is the vicious proxy war playing out today in the streets of Aleppo, Homs, Deir ez-Zor and countless other cities and towns throughout the country. A once-proud nation – long recognised as the cultural and historical jewel of the Levant – has been reduced to a grim battlefield between the West and its Gulf allies on one hand and the Syrian government and its allies in Iran, Russia and Hezbollah on the other. The Israeli airstrikes perpetrated with impunity onto Damascus this past week are yet another illustrative example of the depths of turmoil to which Syria has sunk.
As analysts openly discuss the “Somaliasation” of Syria and growing factions within the country call for military intervention to break the state up into small ethnic and religious enclaves – literally, “into pieces” – the prospect of a united Syria grows more remote by the day. Again, just as in Iraq, the benefactors of Syria’s dismemberment will be the external actors which seek hegemony in the region and have never hidden their desire to see the country collapse.
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Perhaps the most worrying thing about the current Syrian situation is that for both of the coalitions of foreign powers who are supplying the cash and weapons that make the continuation of the war possible, the status quo of chaotic violence is vastly prefferable to an end to the conflict in which their opponents win. Accordingly, it’s very difficult to see how Syria might reach a new, stable equilibrium.
The alternative to a new stable equilibrium, the division of the country into statelets, would almost certainly be very bloody and lead to the kind of ethnic cleansing that took place during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.
The Lebanese solution – not so much a state as an agreement between different ethnic and religious factions not to have one – is in many ways hard to recommend, but I have yet to see a proposed solution to the Syrian situation which would more likely to bring an end to the violence, be acceptable to the foreign powers backing the warring factions and provide some form of democratic government.