The death toll now stands at well over 100,000. The numbers of refugees runs into the millions as people flee the carnage in their homeland. The suffering seems endless with no end in sight. Now the Russians are helping to prolong the civil war, which has gone on for over two years.
So, why doesn’t the West help bring it to an end? Western countries could easily provide the military hardware that would enable the rebels to gain power in Syria. A relatively minor role by France and Britain helped bring down President Gaddafi in Libya.
But there’s a catch, or two, or five, or more . . .
For a start, western countries are tired of endless wars in the Middle East. After years of fighting in Iraq, conflict continues daily in that country. It’s the same in Afghanistan, where Afghan allies, trained by western troops, regularly turn on the westerners who trained them, killing them.
Then there’s the high cost, an ever-mounting bill that has contributed greatly to current financial problems.
Thirdly, there’s al-Qaeda. The terrorist movement is involved in helping to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. There’s no doubt that Assad is a bloody dictator and will stop at nothing, including the use of chemical weapons, to keep himself and his cohorts in power. But it complicates things when al-Qaeda is the main opposition. That makes it very difficult for western countries to get involved.
But still, the majority in Syria clearly wants Assad out, which could easily be accomplished in a democracy. But Syria is not a democracy. They also have a similar problem to Iraq, but it’s the exact opposite. In Syria, the majority are Sunnis, while the ruling elite are Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In Iraq, the Sunnis ruled over the majority Shia under Saddam. Now, following a western style election forced on them, the Shiites are in control and the Sunnis don’t like that, hence the daily bombs that kill and maim hundreds of people. The country seems headed for a civil war.
The Sunni-Shiite conflict is beyond western comprehension. Maybe it’s best just to stay out of it. After all, in hindsight, western intervention in Iraq led to the overthrow of a Sunni government that was not very religious and has now been replaced by a predominantly Shiite government, which has made our old enemy Iran the dominant power in the region. Iran’s sphere of influence now extends from Afghanistan, through Iran and Iraq, to Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon – an arc that stretches from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Why didn’t we think of that before we got involved?
Now, if we help overthrow Assad in Syria, al-Qaeda will likely take over. That would weaken Iran but strengthen the terrorist movement that was behind 9/11. It would exacerbate the Sunni-Shiite divide and who knows what that would lead to?
So the dilemma goes on.
Where does all this leave Israel? With Syria in turmoil, it’s not likely to be attacked from there. Meanwhile, Jordan and Egypt have got plenty of domestic problems. There’s really only Hezbollah to worry about. Oh, and Iran with those nuclear weapons.
But if the Israelis or the Americans weaken Iran, then Sunni Islam is strengthened and that means al-Qaeda again and that means more terrorism and who knows what else?
And now Russia is giving the Syrian government more weaponry with which to defeat the rebels. The Russians can’t afford to see their ally Assad overthrown. The Iranians don’t want to lose him either. This triple entente between the three countries is rather reminiscent of the Cold War, supposedly ended two decades ago. When Israel recently sent planes into Syria on a bombing mission, Israeli PM Netanyahu was immediately summonsed to Moscow, where he was undoubtedly warned to stay out of the Syrian conflict.
It’s all so complicated, there’s no wonder that our television news programs don’t try to explain it. Besides, none of our journalists are likely to understand the complexities of this religious divide. At least they have the sense to stay out of it. Perhaps Washington, London, Paris, and Moscow could follow their example?