Official Washington loves to show heartbreaking images of wounded Syrian children with the implicit message that it’s time to invade Syria and impose “regime change” (rather than commit to peace talks), a dilemma addressed by Michael Brenner.
By Michael Brenner
The Syrian imbroglio is the most complex politico-military conflict of modern times. In terms of number of players, diversity of interests and purposes, intermingling of sectarian and secular ideologies, multiple connections with external parties, and harlequin patterned battlefield, the field of action is unique. Only the Spanish Civil War exhibited a similar mix of elements, although it was simplicity itself by comparison to Syria.
A unique, complicating feature of the Syrian conflict is that the behavior of various leaders appears to follow no discernible logic. Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Crown Prince Mohammed al-Salman of Saudi Arabia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey are not just dogmatic autocrats; their actions are dictated more by emotion than reason.
As for the United States, the Obama administration flails about with no evident strategy in a vain effort to square circles. That places it in the untenable position of allying with Al Qaeda to unseat the Assad regime and, above all, to thwart Russia.
Hence, we provide diplomatic cover, weapons indirectly via the CIA “rat line” to its subordinate partners, and tacit approval of overt Turkish and Saudi material support for the jihadis which includes sophisticated anti-armor TOWs and Man-Pads (portable anti-aircraft weapons) originating in the United States. No one in official Washington feels obliged to answer the most elementary questions about the probity of such a policy. Indeed, almost no one poses it.
If one were to reach for a metaphor to depict this singular state of affairs, one might imagine a six-team match of all-in rugby played in a crowded shopping mall without rules or umpires or time limit. Tactical alliances are as fluid as are the side deals made by riders in the notorious Palio in Siena.