The London-educated, ophthalmologist-trained president of Syria, Bashar Assad, continues to cling to power in his ravaged nation, even as refugee citizens flee by the thousands.
Since the uprising against the brutal dictator began in 2011, the colonial (and rather arbitrary) borders of the Middle East that were drawn by European powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire circa 1920’s have changed forever.
The participants involved in shaping the region’s future are numerous and in opposition to each other. And no party is willing to negotiate a ceasefire, as total victory appears to be a stubborn and collective objective, if an unattainable one.
The Kurds have compared their battle for the control of the city of Kobani as their “Stalingrad,” as they hope to establish a permanent and autonomous homeland of their own.
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ISIS controls a vast expanse of Syrian desert and also sits rather comfortably in Iraq in Mosul, 260 miles from Baghdad.
Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, will likely grow stronger with the easing of sanctions against its sponsor, and in turn will strengthen Assad’s regime and armies.
The combatants are difficult to summarize with any brevity, but Assad’s regime is now attempting to leverage the ambiguity of the players involved into some sort of divide-and-conquer tactic.
“The enemy of my enemy is also my enemy,” rings true in this situation.
America, in some regard, is ironically allied with Iran as bombing missions launched from Gulf nations and Turkey target common opponents in ISIS and Jabhat al-Nursa (Al-Qaida’s offshoot in the region). This action also directly supports previously declared enemies in Hezbollah and Assad’s regime.
And a viable, more appealing alternative to a dictatorship for the sake of stability in the region is not easy to determine. The fact that water, schools, and nearly all civil services have ended in areas outside of ISIS’s proclaimed caliphate is a tragedy that, like most wars, impacts innocents and non-combatants the most. Women and children are being slaughtered by indiscriminate attacks from all sides.
With the proliferation of smartphones and outlets like YouTube, this war is now vicarious, depending on your threshold to view the disturbing massacres and gun battles that are uploaded daily.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization, continues to provide updates on the dark realities of the war as battle lines and control of territory are in a near constant bloody state of flux.
ISIS must be destroyed, but with such a potent dynamic as religion feeding and replenishing armies and brigades, the concept of “normalcy” in Syria may not return for centuries. Despite Assad’s recent admission that the Syrian army is lacking manpower, a protracted stalemate may be inevitable.
The influences and interests in the conflict are global, with Saudi Arabia, Russia and, of course, Israel all very active in their respective and competing roles.
Russia and China are insolently unwilling to allow the U.N. Security Council to form any semblance of a consensus on the conflict.
One possibility is a failed state, like Somali, only exponentially more dangerous.
An unpleasant reality, and my opinion as a curious observer who has not suffered in any way from the conflict, is that Assad and an attempt to return to the status quo of 2010 is possibly the best result imaginable. However, that probably is not the most likely outcome.
John Edward Krause lives in Independence.