There’s a lot of noise coming out of Syria and the various international chat-fests being organized around it these days. Stern warnings from the State Department, charges and counter charges of massacres and atrocities on the ground in Syria, soothing platitudes from Kofi Anan, diplomatic warnings from Russia: most of it can be summarized as “blah, blah, blah.”None of this has much bearing on what will happen. It is mostly posturing — the Russians are trying to look like they matter, the Turks want to look busy while minimizing their risks, the Americans want to feel good about themselves by mounting rhetorical assaults against atrocities they have no will to prevent, and so it goes. The legacy press covers this stuff because it can, and because it often buys into the establishment’s diplomatic narrative, but serious students of international affairs should not be misled: most of what is written about Syria these days is fluff and filler rather than news.For insight into the future of Syria, try this story in the (paywall protected) Financial Times. Support for arming the rebels is growing, as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and wealthy Syrian expats and others step up funding for the military resistance to Assad.The weapons being provided include light infantry arms and, increasingly, anti-tank weapons. Better armed rebels are credited with increasing the death toll among Assad’s soldiers as well as growing numbers of tanks destroyed.Much of the funding comes from official channels, but it’s not clear who exactly is getting the money. While the “Free Syrian Army” is developing a more organized structure around the country, there are many groups in the chaotic resistance movements and, given the atmosphere of lawlessness and smuggling that has been a persistent feature in parts of Syria, it’s not at all clear where these weapons end up.The FT also notes that radical and Salafist sheikhs and organizations in the Gulf are getting into the weapons delivery act. For many jihadis, the fight against Assad is first and foremost a struggle against Alawite “heretics”, and the goal is to build a radical Islamic state on the ruins of Ba’athist, secular Syria.It’s been a classic Saudi ploy to keep the radicals quiet at home by letting them fight and support fighters abroad; this dates back at least as far as the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and has been a pattern in many conflicts since. It seems likely that in this case, when the Saudi state interest in weakening Iran and strengthening the Saudi voice in both Lebanon and Damascus coincides with the jihadi hunger for a Syrian religious war, that Saudi authorities will see radical enthusiasm for Syria as an asset.What’s happening in Syria is a true civil war, and like most civil wars it won’t come to an end until one side loses or until both sides realize that they can’t win. What the Arabs and others are doing to arm the rebels has much more to do with this war than the choreographed posturing of diplomats and the elegant pirouettes of moral concern performed by world leaders trying to make themselves look good against a background of chaos and blood.Will the rebels get the strength and the international backing to drive Assad from power, or will Assad finally manage to crush his opponents once and for all? Or will a stalemate gradually emerge as both sides do everything they can, but neither can quite beat the other? If the rebels do start to succeed, who will win the power struggle among the many different factions into which the regime’s enemies are divided?Those are the real questions in Syria, and understanding the flow of money and arms to rebel groups is almost infinitely more important than following the travel schedule of Kofi Annan as we try to see what comes next.
The Real News From Syria