The conflict in Syria is nothing like either Libya or that of Egypt and Tunisia. This is because it is more of a tribal conflict than any of these other situations. It is also because there are other big players behind the scenes. Tunisia was the springboard, and the people wanted to get rid of a President who had been there for a very long time, to the point that he was involved in big time corruption. The same is true for both Egypt and Libya, yet the Libyan situation bore little resemblance to either of those two nations for other reasons. In Syria, it is the Alawite tribe, which is a minority Shiite tribe that has had power for close to 40 years. On the opposite side there appears to be Sunni (the Al Qaeda connection?) but in reality it is a tribe vs. tribe conflict. Yes, there are Christians in Syria, but these Christians have been backing Assad for their own personal reasons.
In working through the actual history of the conflict (which I have not completed at this point in time), one has to be careful about not being blind-sided bigger Sunni vs Shiite type conflict. It is important to go back and look at how the protests began, who was behind the protestors and what they expected to gain by ousting Assad. At the moment, even that is moot because Assad has been able to hang onto power. This is because of his connections to Iran.
The Syrian conflict is a battle by proxy and Assad has powerful allies behind the scenes. In fact Assad brought in the Iranian guards in an effort to clean out the protesters. It is important to look at these allies and see what influence they have been exerting – it is an influence that has prevented the UN from taking much stronger action. Those other allies include both Russia and China.
Once again we have what I call the sphere of influence. Russia, Iran and China are all seeking influence in Syria. When Gadhafi was defeated the Russians and the Chinese lost an important ally and sphere of influence in North Africa and the Middle East. They were not likely to allow any further deterioration of their influence in that region. It is for this reason that both Russia and China have vetoed any positive UN action in Syria. They have too much to loose if Assad is defeated. The other player is Iran and again Syria has a pivotal role because Syria has been like a go-between with regard to Lebanon. Iran has been sponsoring the Hezbollah via the Syrian regime. Hezbollah is allied to the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Everything fits together when we look at the sphere of influence.
When the conflict broke out in Libya, Gadhafi’s biggest mistake was the decision to use his own forces against the people of Benghazi and other towns. He actually used his air force to bomb those towns. It is for this reason that other countries via the UN and NATO were prepared to help the people who were in danger because of Gadhafi’s intention to punish them in such a fashion. Gadhafi also made the mistake of claiming that those protesting were Al Qaeda. A very small portion had some links to Al Qaeda, but the way in which the conflict snowballed, those people remained a minority. The Berbers from the mountains who were the first to penetrate Tripoli were not members of Al Qaeda. They were in fact a minority people who had been squashed over the years by Gadhafi, and they, like the people from Benghazi and elsewhere wanted their freedoms above anything else. It seems to me that Assad did not learn from Gadhafi’s fatal mistakes.
During the early part of the conflict in Syria there were army defections, and on top of that there were thousands of people who crossed the border into Turkey. For a very long time the Turks have been keeping an eye on the situation. They have provided refugee camps for the people who fled the Syrian border region. It should be pointed out that those army deserters did so because they were being ordered to fire upon unarmed civilians (a lot like what happened in Libya). Assad kept on claiming that the soldiers who were killed were killed by Al Qaeda but that is not the truth. Many of them were shot in the back because they refused to fire upon their own people…. and then Assad blamed an imaginary opposition. It must be pointed out, however, that there continues to be the danger and potential that Al Qaeda will get involved in Syria.
The latest news from the region is not so good, and it is another step which could lead to a war in the region. Today, the Syrians shot down a Turkish fighter aircraft. This incident has the potential of seeing an escalation that goes beyond the borders of Syria. Since Turkey is a NATO country, there is the potential that Turkey will call upon NATO to come to their aid.
It really is the wrong time to have someone who is really stupid in the White House.