The most recent bombing campaign undertaken by the Biden regime, ostensibly against Iran-backed targets in eastern Syria, is the latest such event in a long line of war and misery for that country. But unlike others, Syria appears to be a nation with no sovereign agency and therefore no way to influence events on its own soil, with the Syrian government relying instead on regional supporters to push for certain outcomes – usually those that benefit a small group of individuals within that government.
Far from being a sovereign nation with citizens capable of self-determination, Syria now appears to be a battleground for tribes and empires fighting wars of their own interest. While the Syrian people flee the country in droves, the fabric of Syria as a nation of any sort has frayed.
For several decades prior to 2011, Syria was a country in tentative equilibrium. While majority Sunni Muslim (65-70%), Syria’s population also comprised a substantial number of Christians, at 10-15%. Filling in the remaining 15-20% were various Shi’a offshoots including Ismailis, Druze, Yezidi, and Alawites. From this latter group, the Alawites, came the ruling Asad family, with Hafez al-Asad officially taking power in 1971.
From this context – a Shi’a minority elite ruling over a largely Sunni population – much can be interpreted in terms of the events and dynamics that subsequently took shape in Syria.
Syria’s tentative equilibrium provided relative political stability, especially when compared to the pre-Asad era in which coups were as common as full moons. Though not entirely devoid of sectarian conflict, Syria’s minority rule contributed to this stability by creating checks and balances of a sort, with the Christian population viewing the Alawite rulers as a bulwark against Sunni dominance. The Alawites likewise viewed the Christians as useful allies – though clearly not equal partners in matters of power – and therefore infused their rhetoric with a more secular, less fundamentalist tone so as not to raise Christian hackles.
Over time, Syria’s tentative equilibrium became a precarious balance. Alawite rulers facilitated Alawite entry into the Syrian nobility, such as it is, by effectively enforcing a quota system regarding entry into the top Syrian military academy, the primary feeder system for positions of political power in the country.
Preferential treatment for Alawites necessarily means less opportunity for Sunnis and other groups, so tensions simmered. In 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring, they boiled over.
In 2011, in response to protests against the Asad government, ruled by Hafez’s son Bashar since 2000, Syrian security forces and paramilitary groups descended on the town of Daraa in the southern part of the country, employing violent and repressive tactics to quell a potential uprising.
Anyone familiar with the history of the Asad family’s rule in Syria knows that such tactics are part and parcel of the totalitarian Asad family character and, more broadly, a common response by Arab rulers to political misbehavior from their subjects.
Despite the crackdown, demonstrations against the regime spread, eventually breaking out into a full blown and chaotic war. However, unlike many wars, there was no way to identify two distinct sides fighting over respectively desired outcomes. Instead, myriad factions pursued their own agendas. Some factions favored Islamic fundamentalism, others secularism. Some advocated pluralism, others concentration of power. As a result, alliances among factions were blurry and short-lived depending on the specific time and context, preventing the coalescence of any focal point for resistance to the Asad regime and therefore making it impossible to answer the question of what comes next.
The naïve and incoherent approach taken in Syria by world powers, such as the US, only added confusion and empowered the most radical power-seeking groups in Syria. ISIS, for example, ended up with American weapons almost as soon as they were supplied to the Free Syrian Army, the group initially supported in this manner by the US, thus indicating the primary opposition group of the day was itself heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists.
Similarly, regional Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey all took turns supporting their favored rebel Islamist factions by supplying them with arms and cash.
Ultimately, the war in Syria petered out to the benefit of the status quo. The Asad regime remained nominally in power, largely as a result of the described inability of the opposition to form any coherent union or raison d’etre – thus making international support for opposition nearly impossible – and the consistent military support of the Asad regime by Russia.
Russia, seeking stability in the region within a country where their influence was significant, chose to support a ruler who, while not entirely to their liking, was at least a known entity and a preferable alternative to fundamentalist Islamic rule.
The Latest Bombings
On January 28th, three American service members were killed by a drone attack at an American base in Jordan. Blame was quickly placed on Iran and, on February 2, the Biden regime bombed Iranian targets. Not in Iran. Not in Jordan, where the January 28 drone attack took place. But in Syria and Iraq.
The location of these supposed Iranian targets (shown below) is a vast, sparsely populated area of Syria called Deir Ezzor, far from the Syrian, Iranian or Iraqi regimes and population centers. So far, in fact, that one wonders whether the strikes and their specific justification are credible.
As reported here:
On Friday, toward the end of the press call that US officials organized to brief reporters on the Iraq and Syria strikes, a journalist from Al Jazeera asked about the US claims around civilian casualties, and whether the administration intended to share the “clear, irrefutable” evidence that it said linked the targets to the Jordan attack. A tense exchange ensued. When the reporter asked a lieutenant general on the call whether the government expected the American public to accept its word on the strikes, the lieutenant general replied, “Yes.” The reporter followed up: “Do you feel that the American military has a good track record when it comes to—.” A spokesperson cut in. “We’re going to move on to the next question,” he said.
Fight or Flight
The Christian population in Syria was decimated during the war and now comprises less than 2% of the population. Many fled, seeing no place for themselves in the middle of a sectarian Islamic conflict where the benefits of allying with a totalitarian regime were suddenly less apparent.
In that context, Syria is more fragile than ever, as no third party sits between the ruling Alawites and their resentful Sunni subjects. What used to be a tentative equilibrium now looks like a shaky stasis with no real future.
Regardless of how one interprets the Biden regime’s explanation on the recent bombings, one thing is certain – the collapse of any semblance of political or social cohesion, as delicate as it was, means that regard for Syria as a sovereign political body is now nonexistent.