In my futuristic SF ebooks, I have one extremely advanced alien race, and they have a very specific policy regarding communication with less advanced races: they do not intervene in that society’s development unless they are prepared to take full responsibility for what follows, and that what follows must be demonstrably better for all concerned than what the situation was at the intervention. The net result of this is they basically refuse to intervene, no matter what they see because there is too much danger that all they can do is make things worse. In short, “Do no harm!”
It is with this in mind that I cannot resist thinking about the Western interventions in what is referred to as the Middle East. As far as I am aware, Tunisia probably just happened, but since then there has been an “Arab Spring” contagion spread across the region, and many Western nations have acted to accelerate and fan the flames of whatever develops, seemingly with the view that they know best how the others should live. Then, before that, there was Iraq. In my view, just about everything the West has done in that region has turned to custard, but what has been learned from the experience? Bearing in mind what we see now, in my opinion, not much, because the same old mistakes keep turning up.
Just to be clear, people like Gadhafi, Hussein, Assad, and others were definitely not saints. However, they did manage some basic functions of governance, such as maintaining order within their boundaries, and as long as their people were not politically active, their lives were basically safe and as prosperous as they were likely to be in that region. And above all else, they enforced religious tolerance. What they knew, and what the West seems to have forgotten, is that when one religious group refuses to tolerate another, there is widespread bloodshed and persecution. These “strongmen” may not have been very bright with their public relations with the West, but they knew they had to keep the lid on a box of some very dangerous problems. All the West has done has been to ignore Pandora, and tear off that lid.
The Western policy in Syria, if there is one, seems to be to replace Assad with someone more moderate in which case (more in hope than based on any trace of evidence) everyone will live happily ever after. Obviously, no lesson learned from Iraq. As for logic, how can any moderate person contain the current religious hatred?
In my opinion, the only reason to intervene against the government in another country having a revolt is that there is a clearly superior replacement in line, should you succeed. There was no such person in Iraq, and instead in flew a number of Iraqis who had been living in the West, who had cultivated support, and who could not wait to get their hands on the treasury and oil money of Iraq. Then there arose a Shi’ite dominated government that was determined to put the boot into the Sunnis. Then there were all the unemployed soldiers and officials from Hussein’s time. By firing the civil service, there was no chance of reasonable governance, and those soldiers were a natural source of fighters for the newly emerged ISIS. What a great strategy that turned out to be.
So, what we have now is the US bombing ISIS and, along with the Saudis, funding “moderate” opposition to Assad. Then, into the mix we have the Russians bombing opposition to Assad, which may include but is not exclusive to ISIS. The “moderate” opposition includes a number of Sunni soldiers from what was the Syrian army, Ahrar al-Sham, which has strong al Qaeda connections, and the Nusra Front, which is the more official Syrian branch of al Qaeda. Thus we have the somewhat ironical outcome that the US is so keen to get rid of Assad that it is busy helping and funding al Qaeda. And just suppose Assad goes; who would you bet on to replace him?
From a military point of view, who, if anyone, is likely to beat ISIS? My guess is the best bet is the Iranians, including their Quds special force. The reason is you cannot win a war without imposing your will through ground troops. If the US really wants to get rid of ISIS, it should support the Iranians, but then again, the US is fixated on opposing Iran on its nuclear ambitions, and has indicated a willingness to bomb Iran. How about that for prioritizing? To add to the complexity, it is unclear whether Iran is really interested. Meanwhile, the Russians have a chance to flex some muscle and demonstrate to Europe that getting involved in the Ukraine might come at a price. And, of course, Iran has an incentive to learn from the Russians how to work advanced anti-aircraft defences in case the US or Israel decides to bomb it. I wonder if any Western politicians are wondering whether it might have been better to leave that area alone? A clear strategy does not guarantee winning, but in this case a virtual absence of clear strategy is a fairly good indication that, in the long term, loss is inevitable.