The Syrian Civil War is not a simple good-guy vs. bad-guy dyad. There are layers upon layers to it. If there is a fault in the analysis herein, it may be that it is too simple.
The Shia-Sunni schism in Islam goes back to the foundations of the religion. The centuries of this dispute have often resulted in war, violent persecution and massacre.
The quasi-secularism that gave birth to Syria’s Ba’ath party buried the schism, but the revival of Sunni militant traditions in the 1980s has revived it. To Salafists and Wahhabis, the Alawite Shia identity of the Assad family is anathema, no Shite should be in a position to rule over Sunnis. The tolerance for Druze and Christians is also unacceptable.
While many Syrian Sunnis have rallied to the Assad government, most of the rebel factions are Salafist in nature. If they toppled the regime, the consequences for the Alawites, Druze and Christians who have thrived under the Ba’athists would be genocidal.
It also doesn’t take a jaundiced eye to notice that the Arab World has been dominated for a thousand years by non-Arabs; nor might it be too cynical to suggest that a talent for civil administration is not solidly rooted in Arab society.
Since the Seljuk Turks appeared in 1040 AD, assorted Turks, Mamelukes, Kurds, Persians and – latterly – Europeans have all controlled the Arab World. The Persians and Turks have spent centuries squabbling over who gets to rule the Middle East. In some ways, this civil war is a reprise of their ancient struggle.
Iran has its proxies in Syria (the Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah are fighting for Assad). Turkey has – at times – turned a blind eye to various rebel factions other than ISIS, as has Saudi Arabia which also sees this civil war as one that may determine primacy in the Arab World.
After the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the end of World War One – the Arab world began a debate over the way forward. The nationalist/militarist/socialist secular school won out, suppressing the “Old Time Religion” school advanced by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s.
The 2011 “Arab Spring” was a revolt against that many failings of the secular school. Notwithstanding our vague hopes that democracy might come at last, this unrest was the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood and its fronts to attempt to seize power. So it proved in Syria.
These three struggles are all interwoven in Syria, and it is hard to see how there is room here to insert Israel (sitting apprehensively on the sidelines) or access to oil into the causes of the conflict. Nor, for whatever proponents of sundry conspiracy theories may insist, do we find the Rothschilds, Bilderberg, the World Bank, the Illuminati, or the secret Space Lizards of Antarctica.
If the reality of the Syrian Civil War is complicated enough, so is the solution – assuming there is one. It remains that the best of all possible outcomes is the one that does the least evil. It may be that the least evil solution is to leave Assad in power, despite his friendship with Russia.
This civil war is no morality play, and never was. Notwithstanding President Trump’s expression of outrage over the use of chemical weapons, we would be well advised to stand clear until the dust settles… if it ever does.