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The Syrian Civil War
The Next Stage
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  • Kevin

    Seems much like the Thirty Years War with outside powers throwing money and manpower into the cauldron for a couple of generations (1618-1660) until the Spanish/Hapsburgs/Catholics were finally broken at the Battle of the Dunes.

    • arlowoodenhead

      I can think of a much more recent parallel – The Iran Iraq war. The rest of the world was content to let that one go on, variously helping either side that seemed to be flagging.

      • rheddles

        The good old days.

  • gabrielsyme

    But it involves a sectarian population exchange, sending the Shiites in Idlib to other government-held areas, and moving Zabadani’s Sunni rebels and their families to insurgent-held Idlib, raising the specter of forced demographic change.

    As I read that, it certainly seems that the Syrian government is only transferring active combatants (and their families, which is sensible and would likely happen anyway), while the Rebels are in fact ethnically-cleansing their area, deporting all Shiites. Perhaps the facts on the ground are more complex than reported, but this fits the general disposition of the sides of the Syrian Civil War – the government is eager to maintain the support of at least some Sunnis and reconcile with others, while the rebels have increasingly identified their cause with sectarian victory and revenge upon minority groups seen as supportive of the government.

    Assad ruled with a terrible harshness, but one of the principal goals of his regime was always to maintain a pluralist society that provided safety, opportunity and dignity for minority communities: Alawite, Shiite, Christian and Druze among others. In a region where such pluralism is incredibly rare, it is tragic to see the relative harmony of Syria replaced by a vicious war where the rebels increasingly seek (as demonstrated by their rhetoric and their actions) a Syria cleansed of religious minorities. We need not even speak of ISIS to be gravely concerned.

  • Fat_Man

    “Even the most destructive wars sometimes ultimately burn themselves out …”

    26 more years. 1914 — 1945. 1618 — 1648. It takes 30 years for these things to burn themselves out. This one started in 2011, so I am looking for 2014. If you are optimistic, you could say that it began in Iraq in 2003, so you would be looking at 2033. I would be 86 years old, if I live until then.

  • wigwag

    For a fuller description of what Professor Mead is alluding to, do yourself a favor and read “Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism” by the incomparable Jerry Z. Muller. It appeared in the March, 2008 edition of Foreign Affairs. It’s one of the most insightful essays to appear in that journal in decades.

    It can be found here,

    • Anthony

      Jerry Z. Muller 2008 Foreign Affairs article is both informative and insightful; a good and timely read WigWag, thanks. “One can only profit by facing it directly.”

    • Gene

      On your recommendation I read the accountability article and while I’ll agree that he’s on to something, I’m not sure where he would have us go. Lots of description of the “problem,” almost no discussion of the solution. And if you back off from the metrics/benchmarks, etc., do you end up re-enabling the abuses that unquantified power was responsible for?

    • AaronL

      Have read it before as per your recommendation in another posting. This is my opportunity to thank you. It is a brilliant essay.

      • wigwag

        Thanks for the kind words. I very glad you enjoyed it.

  • PierrePendre

    I’m assuming that the proposed population exchanges in Syria are the “solution” to the antipathy between Sunnis and Shias and the need to separate them. It may stop fighting in some areas but it doesn’t indicate how the outcome of the war can maintain a unitary Syria. Rather it would lay down the basis for a permanently divided country, perhaps, federated, or new states on former Syrian territory homogenised according to religious affiliation.

    The point is that there is nothing the West can do bring about a rapprochement between Sunnis and Shias whose differences are causing chaos in Iraq as well as Syria. The best it can hope for is to help bring about conditions for these rival communities to co-exist separately via these population exchanges.

    It will be remembered that Biden proposed this as a solution for Iraq several years ago and was roundly ridiculed by all the people who thought they knew better but have proved only that that they essentially understand nothing about the dynamics of Middle East politics shaped by religious tradition.

    Surely the key to restoring some order in Iraq and Syria entails reaching a modus vivendi with the Sunnis of Isil and the Sunni Arab states and that that will probably mean drawing new borders. Perhaps this is one reason why Obama is only pretending to attack Isil.

    The decision to recognise that Assad is also going to have to be part of the solution is a welcome insertion of geopolitical reality into the whole mess that has resulted from the West’s misreading of the Arab Spring and Bush’s insane project to implant Western democracy in the desert sand as if if were something ready-to-go simply by toppling Saddam.

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