It seems like more and more people in the Middle East are waking up to the fact that the multipolar era is back. They might also be waking up to the fact that the Assad Curse is real and coming for them next. This week, the Arab League voted to bring Syria back in. Multiple countries have stepped up to call for an end to sanctions, proxy war, and diplomatic isolation of Damascus.
The war itself will continue, of course. The once-farcically and unironically titled ‘Moderate Rebels’ now hold only one province, tacitly backed up by Turkey (the Final Boss of The Curse still needs to be defeated), making the once truly global Syrian intervention really now just down to Turkey and the remaining rebels, the U.S. and the Kurds, and Iran, Russia, and Syria. No other past players seem to even matter anymore.
Syria is, of course, destroyed. It is the ultimate loser of this entire 12 year long farce. But in geopolitics its not just about net gain and net loss, it is also about relative gain and loss in a purely survivalistic sense. In such struggles, a much smaller country facing strong rivals always comes off better looking if it merely manages to survive the great power machinations that brought it ruin in the first place. Most do not.
While the United States (and now Russia) have been busy beclowning themselves in performing poorly in unequal struggles that should favor them, it is rare for a great power to be outright driven from a country due to anything more than fatigue with the conflict. So while Washington may flee Kabul, it was not really beaten by the Taliban directly but more by itself. I would argue this dynamic is not the case in the Syria-NATO rivalry, however.
Recognizing that after the back to back failures of Iraq and Libya there would be no public desire for a conventional military operation, Washington bet on a covert logistical and intelligence-based one. This ended up with the most expensive arms and training program in CIA history (that we know of) largely contributing weaponry to groups primarily controlled by or in the process of defecting to sectarian jihadists militants. It took barely over a decade for the War on Terror to become the War of Terror.
When it became obvious that Syria would not fall, but was taking active measures to sideline rebel support, shore up its own alliances, and concentrate on retaking key centers in the country, it was obvious that Damascus had a strategy and Washington did not. To retain its sovereignty, Syria was willing to do anything and everything. To topple Assad, Washington and allies veered randomly between constant whining about abstract human rights and pretending they were not in fact supporting a regime change operation. It fooled no one paying attention, though to this day there are ridiculous numbers of (usually NPR-brained) Americans who are convinced we ‘didn’t do enough’ in Syria.
Rebels armed and trained by the U.S. would of course defect to ISIS or Al Nusra in large numbers, and end up being fought by US and Iraqi forces directly. This meant that weapons going to fight the government in Syria went to fight the Iraqi government as often as anyone else. The entire farce of the ‘Caliphate’ likely would never have happened without the regime change war in Syria. No one who took part in supporting or carrying out these policies should have a job in policy. Jail would be a better location for them.
Once it was apparent that Assad would in fact *not* go, the ‘soft power’ crybaby machine was turned on full force. A group that once shacked up with rebel groups and hung out at their public executions ended up winning an Oscar to the seal-clapping applause of the Hollywood elite. To question the mainstream narrative on the conflict became classified as ‘repeating Russian talking points’ (the irony of that ever being applied to me), and endless maudlin stories of caged bird coffeeshop poetsouls exiled from Syria became the litany of special interest segments. The Last Clown of Aleppo was killed, and We Must Do Something. Hell, I even met The Gay Girl in Damascus one time. Of course, so much of all of this was the very definition of lies, psychological operations, and biased conflict coverage.
And like all things based on lies, if you pop the balloon the entire construct deflates. There is no reality there. The war in Syria was real, and Damascus fought it like a real war. Washington and company fought it like a virtue signaling NGO campaign because it (rightly) did not want to get more directly involved. And so it was defeated by little Syria. And no amount of the western press shrieking like the pro-Confederate British press once shrieked about Sherman’s March was going to change that. War is not a cute little parlor game engaged in to offhandedly try to effect boutique causes far from core national interests, it is a survival struggle. And the people fighting to survive will outfight the dilettantes from far abroad who come in as dabblers. In an alternate world where Hillary Clinton became president in 2016 we likely would have gotten more ‘serious’ about conducting this war. And where would that have gotten us? Ask any person who supported intervention in Syria what they thought would be the best case scenario from toppling the government and you get nothing but circa 2003-era Bushisms about a magical Freedumbstan spontaneously arising in the Arab world. The actual most likely scenario always was Somali-style country-wide state failure with massive pockets of genocidal Islamist rule making the refugee crisis even worse. This is why, strange as it may sound since I am no fan of Trump to put it mildly, we may have really dodged a bullet back in 2016. Even so, a case could be made (and I have in fact made it) that intervention in Syria fatally harmed the very ‘Liberal International Order’ interventionists claim their policies are necessary to support.
Ten years ago there was a huge outbreak (you know, like a disease), of supposed Syria experts. They all took the rebel side and shaped a false narrative meant to convince the public to see this war as something it was not. Elizabeth O’ Bagy was perhaps the most flagrant example. She lied about most of her professional qualifications and her fall was as sudden as her rise. She was, in a sense, the entire Beltway’s take on the post- Cold War Middle East in a nutshell, even down to the McCain-worship. But where the U.S. has a plethora of professional managerial class Girlbosses lining up to be the next O’Bagy on call for any region and any conflict, the population tires and the empire declines continuously regardless of their opinions. Meanwhile, falcon-handling Syrian generals lead from the front. And people know, regardless of what they think of a government that itself created many of the conditions for the civil war, that national dismemberment awaits if this struggle to foreign interests and non-state actors is lost.
There is a tendency both among leftoids and rightoids who are opposed to this continuous imperial death-drive in Washington to glamorize the U.S.’ foes. I don’t do this. I have made it clear on many times I find the concept of a ‘Resistance Axis’ a joke and that bloated imperial hubris is hardly a specifically American thing even today. But I do respect the knock-down-drag-out resistance of Syria against its many enemies. I respect the careful balancing it takes to play Iran and Russia off each other enough to prevent either from dominating the postwar consensus, and I respect the holding strong and doubling down when all the dumbest world leaders say they should be in charge of your own country’s future. There is an immense price to be paid for this intransigence, and too many have suffered. U.S. forces remain occupying remote parts of the country, though their time there is borrowed and their departure will be eventually inevitable no matter how long Washington drags its feet. But the alternative was far worse. And in the end, Syria won and the interventionists lost. Now the main problem is poverty-inducing sanctions forced on the country by a bitter sore loser class of North Atlantic ideologues.
Better change your Syria policies before that election, Erdogan.