As many countries across the Middle East were affected by what the U.S. was calling the “Arab Spring” (actually beginning in the winter), different situations emerged with different results across Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. This unrest also started to emerge in Syria but was a lot messier, because no one knew the good actors from the bad ones.
Unlike Egypt, Syria didn’t have a strong military who constantly got involved in its internal politics, which allowed for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. A lot of critics state if President Obama had supported the right rebel groups early on maybe Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s President/Dictator, would’ve been ousted and we wouldn’t have had this huge power vacuum that allowed for the Islamic State to gestate and spill over into a weak Iraq. But there was no way to know for certain if that would’ve been effective because groups were trading allegiances all the time; some would align with al-Nusra (the “Syrian al-Qaeda”), some with the Free Syrian Army (which hadn’t been established yet), some with ISIS and maybe even al-Qaeda directly. But the wait and see approach has had the results we are seeing now which have been drastic.
Syria is currently a disaster, and what a “Times” article had recently pointed out, was that Assad wasn’t attacking the ISIS home base in the south because they have not made any claims to oust him or directed any military advances against his forces. He is simply kept an alliance of convenience. They fight his enemies, while turning all the world’s attention on to them, raising sympathy and awareness for his significance. He has allowed for trade and resources to continue operating between other areas and their region.
The people who are directly threatening him to be removed are al-Nusra, the other Muslim extremist group, as well as the Free Syrian Army, who we are still not sure what their intent is but should be supportive of with a bit more clarity. These groups are getting “barrel bombed” by the regime constantly (a type of explosive that sends out shrapnel).
Initially, a situation that might have seen another toppled dictator has become a political and social disaster that has been taken advantage of by Assad and his regime. With so many different factions vying for their own takeover, Assad is simply playing a stalemate game, until the world sees he is the dictator they need in order to maintain peace. They’ve seen what has happened when you take the strongman out of a marriage of unlikely children such as Iraq; although there wasn’t freedom under Saddam Hussein, there was order, which some Iraqi’s like to nostalgically recall.
With the rise of fear in the Islamic State’s black flag and masked psychopaths, and the various lone acts of extremist’s terrorist attacks, people are actually considering keeping the old lid to seal the pressure cooker, which would be President Assad and his murderous regime. Five French Parliament members had a secret meeting with him this week (which was publicly condemned by French authorities), presumably in looking to create a politically expedient role of solving the ISIS issue.
The Islamic State is awful and atrocious. Assad again supports them because they divert attention. Turkey turns a blind eye, even at some points supporting them by allowing them to move through their region, to receive recruits as well as funds, because they destabilize Assad’s state as well as the Kurds in Syria and Iraq (who has a population 40 million Kurdish upstarts they have been trying to assimilate and pacify for decades). Many believe that ISIS has been receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, supporting a Sunni proxy against the Shiite war that softly rages between the Saudis and Iran, and this keeps the Shiite majority in Iraq from stabilizing as an Iranian power expansion.
In spite of all the mess and the atrocities committed by ISIS, the situation is better than it could have been. Now we have a lot of the region’s extremist centralized into one place. If there was a strong enough offensive push as well as some sort of allied military force in Syria to cut off escape or to maintain containment, then it is possible to cut the cancer at its source.
The number one thing we need to encourage our governments and people: arm the Kurds in Syria and Iraq directly. The US refuses to do so for fear of future separatist ambitions. But they are the most effective fighting force currently on the field. With the Iraqi army made up of mostly Shiite recruits as well as Baghdad being under Shiite control, they’ve already lost a large amount of U.S. provided weapons and armored vehicles (guns, anti-aircraft, tanks, explosives) when the Iraqi army fled Mosul. And sending the U.S. supplied armaments directly only through Baghdad means that Kurdistan and the Peshmega have to succumb to the Shiite controlled Baghdad, whose government under Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki (a Shiite leader) created the current situation through harsh treatment of the Sunni minority as well as economic and organizational mismanagement.
The US simply does not want to allow Kurdistan independence to keep Iraq from falling under Shiite-Iranian control; and to placate Turkey, who is worried about their own Kurdish population who has been looking for secession (Iraqi Kurdistan has a population of 5 million, compared to Turkeys larger Kurdish population).
Despite the harrowing loses of the Peshmerga, this war has had its upsides for the Kurdish people, in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan now looks like a legitimate nation, who can be counted on for democratic reasons as well as being an established fighting force, hopefully leading to independence. The Syrian Kurds will hopefully be able to continue ruling their region in an autonomous manner, and if we can protect it (maybe creating a parallel no-fly zone as was the case in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 90’s) then it will one day lead to a greater, federalists and democratically created Kurdistan, possibly spanning the Kurds of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.