The Syrian Enigma

Syria is a failed state. There is no other way to describe the country that has been enveloped in the flames of war ever since the first protests began against the current President Bashar al-Assad. Ever since those first protests that began on the cusp of the Arab Spring, much has changed and the situation in the country and in the region has taken a whole different form. Now, we see a Syria divided between what is left of al-Assad’s government, weak Sunni rebels backed by the West, and of course the ever-growing Islamic State. There is no ‘democratic revolution’ like some thought, but a bloody civil war as blood-thirsty, radical Islamist groups try to take down al-Assad’s secular government.

ethno-religious map of Syria

All this could have been avoided, if it weren't for a fatal strategic choice that the West made in who to support. Much of the West, including the United States, thought that Assad would fall like the other Arab Governments that fell amidst the growing Arab Spring. They thought that the moderate Sunnis could establish a Syria that would be friendlier to the West, support Western energy projects in the region, and reject Russian strategic desires. It was a gamble that many in the West thought to be a “no-brainer”. They would be on the side of the “democratic masses” trying to overthrow an “authoritarian” government. What could possibly go wrong?

What could go wrong; went wrong. The West made a fatal mistake in their choice. What quickly happened as the rebels increased their momentum against the Syrian Government was an influx of Sunni Islamist groups taking advantage of Western money and arms that was flowing in to help the supposed “moderate rebels”. In fact, those rebels were flowing into the arms of future Islamic State fighters. Unfortunately, this was not enough for the West to recognize its mistake and change course. They still believed that the rebels could provide them a more friendly Syria, even if filled with Sunni Islamists. Turkey was more than happy to see growing Sunni Islamists taking over the fight, as Turkey itself has become an increasingly Islamist Sunni state — the support by the two Sunni powerhouses, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of the Sunni Radicals in Syria was expected. Who are those Sunni Radicals today? They are the Islamic State.

President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad

Now the supposed Syrian moderate rebels are essential non-existent, as the rebel fight against the Assad Government has been taken over by the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups. Today, the fight is between a secular, albeit authoritarian government of Assad versus an even more authoritarian, radically Islamist group that will make Syria a global hub of terrorism and human rights abuses. The Sunni Radicals of Syria have no tolerance for Christians, Shias, or anybody that doesn't follow their twisted ideology and interpretation of Islam. Under the Assad government, minorities were respected and given room to live. Assad was able to govern the mult-religious country of Syria, even though flaws did exist. Assad had even offered intelligence support to the US against al-Qaeda after the September 11 attacks. We all saw how Libya turned out. The fall of its authoritarian leader led to a power vacuum, and now Libya is in a state of anarchy and constant civil war, serving as a base for terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

The naive notion that the Western model of governance can be applied to such societies in the Middle East needs to be discarded. Often times it is an authoritarian leadership that can hold the glue between all the conflicting religious identities in these societies, like Assad has done in Syria. If that glue is broken, the result is something much worse. Anarchy ; civil war; and human catastrophes. Before it is too late, the West should realize that a Syria without Assad, would be an enormous security threat to the whole world, another hub for jihad would be created. The West needs to realize that the only way to prevent a radical Islamist takeover of Syria is to support Assad and its fight against the Islamic State. Yes, Assad is a close ally of Russia, but I’m sure any Westerner will take Russia over the brutal Islamic terrorists that ISIS has spawned. The romantic notions that Syrian moderates can take over Assad and govern Syria in a stable manner need to be quickly forgotten.

The fight now is between a secular and secure Syria led by Assad and a radical, Islamist Syria envisioned by the Islamic State and its allies. The choice here should be more than clear to any sane person.

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