8-28-15 – Syrian Apocalypse

by John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS Syria continues to descend into the inferno while the international community stands transfixed. A political solution seems elusive as ever, the civil war grinds on having killed over 250,000 people, and more than twelve million people have fled their homeland. Alarmed by these developments, the UN Security Council has affirmed its support for finding a durable political settlement to a crisis which after four years of fighting not only threatens Syria, but dangerously has morphed into a regional threat.

“The Security Council stresses that the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” a consensus statement says. The French-led initiative was the first time in two years that the Council specifically issued a political statement concerning the conflict.

Significantly Russia has agreed to this nebulous political process along with the USA and UK.

In other words, besides treating the humanitarian symptoms, let’s try to solve the problem.

Importantly the Council focused its attention on terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Al Nusrah front, as well as Al Qaida affiliates. The fifteen member Council, “condemns the ongoing and multiple terrorist” acts by these groups which “destabilizes Syria and the region with a devastating humanitarian impact on the civilian population.”

Let’s review the circles of Hell into which Syria has descended.

The Political; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated yet again that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict and calls for a political solution. Opposition to the Assad Family regime which exploded during the Arab Spring in 2011 has evolved from a quasi-democratic opposition movement into a plethora of terrorist groups intent at topping the authoritarian Assad with the intent of installing a radical theocratic Islamic regime.

Both the Al Nusra front, and the ISIL form the leading edge of a lethal opposition which if they triumph, would create a fundamentalist Sunni state which borders five countries, all of them American allies, and including Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. Naive attempts by the Obama Administration to recruit and support “moderate” resistance fighters have turned out to be a sad and costly joke.

The Military; ISIL’s stunning military sweeps across northern Syria and Iraq has concentrated attention. The thousands of foreign fighters from Western Europe and even the USA which have joined the “Jihad Internationale,” fighting in Syria have added a dangerous ingredient to the conflict. While the Syrian government forces and regime-allied militias have been bloodied and battered, the fact remains that weapons from Russia and Iran have been sufficient to maintain a perilous balance in parts of the country. Moscow and Tehran have respectively supported Assad’s Syria for both strategic and religious reasons.

Syria’s multi-ethnic once secular society has now descended into a vicious sectarian conflict as much as a political one. The Muslim Sunni majority are battling the ruling Shiite (Alawite ) sect for power; ISIL Sunni terrorists target the country’s ancient Christian community as well as the Kurds. Realistically Syria could split and harden into religious/ethnic enclaves.

The Humanitarian; Twelve million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes; that’s about half the pre-war population!   Four million have become refugees and are flooding into neighboring states especially Lebanon and Turkey.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey hosts 1.8 million displaced persons, tiny Lebanon 1.2 million, Jordan 629,000, and Iraq 250,000.

Many of the fleeing Syrians are trying to sneak into Europe by makeshift and dangerous means to seek political asylum. Germany is a favorite destination.

The Archaeological;  ISIL’s wanton pillage and looting throughout northern Syria and Iraq has deliberately targeted an important and irreplaceable artistic heritage. Besides smashing statues and looting museums, without question some stolen art is being secretly sold to the lucrative international art black market. ISIL recently beheaded a prominent archaeologist Khalid al-Asaad in Palmyra, the ancient city seized by these thugs in the Spring.

So can the world community really convince the Syrians to stop fighting and destroying their historic homeland ? Or is the cult of death and violence, the lure of power, sectarian hatreds, and competing geopolitical rivalries, too strong a toxin as to stop the conflict?

– John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He’s the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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