A Brief Overview of the Major Players in the Syrian Civil War

Current military situation: Red: Syrian government, Green: Syrian opposition, Yellow: Rojava (SDF)/Syrian Kurds, Grey: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, White: Tahrir al-Sham (formerly known as the al-Nusra Front)

 

To put it simply, The Syrian Civil War is a quagmire. There are alot of different factions at play here. It can be a little confusing to those getting into this topic to navigate. This guide hopefully will provide you with a brief overview of the situation down there as of today.

Turkey

Turkey seeks to quell its own Kurdish uprising and increase its influence in the Middle East

The Turks are against the Syrian Kurds and Assad and ISIS roughly in that order and nominally allied with the US however Russia has been recently trying to make friendly overtures towards them. The Turks mainly seek to quell the local Syrian Kurds to keep their own Kurdish separatist movement in check as well as gain a greater influence in the Middle East at the expense of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the other Gulf States as well as Iran.  They sent a military intervention into Syria with the goal of fighting both ISIS and the Syrian Kurds.  Recently, there has been an uptick in violence between the Syrian Kurds and Turkish forces as ISIS-held Raqqa nears collapse

Assad

Assad seeks to stop the rebellion with the help of Russia and Iran

Assad has, with the support of Russia and Iran, been focusing mostly on non ISIS rebels which are themselves a patchwork of different factions of shifting alliances running the gamut from hard core Islamists of a different ideological stripe from ISIS to secular militarists to straight up secular liberal democracy proponents. However the Syrian regime is also at war with ISIS but have largely let the US coalition fight them, keeping their military operations concentrated to the southern and western parts of Syria.  Until the Russian intervention Syria government forces were on the brink.  The Iranian militias supporting them “unofficially” were not enough to stem the tide. However the arms and military support from Russia allowed them to take the offensive and make considerable gains in the war.  They are trying to stay out of the Syrian Kurds way as the Syrian Kurds have been the main force fighting ISIS with the perceived strategy of letting them fight it out and taking down the winner.

 

The Gulf States

The Gulf States seek to fight ISIS with the nominal help of the US coalition but also seek to check Iranian and Turkish influence.

The Gulf States (UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, etc) generally back support and arm various rebel groups within Syria shifting their support as the map and battlefield changes. They tend however to support the hardcore Islamists as a way of staying “tough on seculars​” They are also nominally allied with the US as ISIS and Iran are common enemies. They do this mostly to maintain their local hegemony over the region and to prevent Iran and non Gulf Muslim States (like Turkey and Iran) from gaining the upper hand, influence wise. Also as one of ISIS’s stated goals is the utter destruction of those states they must work with the US to prevent that.

Iran

Iran seeks to maintain its influence in Syria as well as fight ISIS in nominal cooperation with Russia

Iran seeks to maintain its last foothold of influence in the Arab world (Iranians are Persians) and thus supports Assad as the Syrian regime was one of the few that had a pro Iranian policy. They are nominally allied with Russia as the two share similar goals of keeping the Syrian regime alive. They also are against ISIS as their special brand of Islam is not ISIS’s special brand of Islam so they fight their own completely separate battle against them.  This is done mostly through unofficial militias as well as “Iranian volunteers.”

Russia

Russia continues its quest for warm water ports and increased influence in the Middle East on the side of Assad and Iran.

Russia also seeks to maintain its last foothold in the Middle East. Continuing it’s long-standing policy of warm water ports, it seeks to preserve the military base in Tartus that it has in Syria ( the Syrian regime has granted them military access and a base there) as well as gain new bases in Syria to continue its bid for control and access to the Eastern Mediterranean and the trade routes that pass through it. It also is against ISIS largely out of an outgrowth of the Chechen conflict (many former Chechen rebels went to ISIS after they lost.) As such they back the Syrian regime to the hilt against the Syrian rebels, ISIS, and the US and Gulf state interests roughly in that order and nominally work with Iran.

Syrian Kurds

The Kurds seek to form their own nation and are the main ground force against ISIS

The Syrian Kurds are straight up fighting for their own country. Kurds are the largest and oldest “Stateless Nation”. They haven’t been able to form a state as traditional Kurdish lands straddle Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq.  (Guess which countries in the Middle East are against the Kurds!)  They are the main ground force fighting ISIS as the territory they control is right smack dab next to ISIS controlled territory. The US backs them against the protests of Turkey and they are nominally allied to the Iraqi Kurds in the east.  The Iraqi Kurds are the ones who actually sent an artillery force to help relieve Kobani a couple years back. The Syrian Kurds are leftist while the Iraqi Kurds are right wing which makes for some tensions but are still united in the idea of a Kurdish state. After ISIS though the Syrian Kurds are opposed to Turkey. The US has been trying to keep Kurdish and Turkish forces apart but once ISIS is gone all bets are off.

US led Coalition

The US seeks to keep ISIS from launching attacks on its homeland as well as to limit Russian and Iranian influence in the Middle East

The US led coalition is primarily interested in the defeat of ISIS as a way of keeping them in the Middle East and busy so as not to conduct terror attacks on domestic US soil. They are also against the Assad regime for human rights violations but also to limit Russians and Iranian influence in the Middle East.  They try to back the various rebel groups but their support is limited as they are trying to find the ever rarer secular democratic rebel group (there are a few but they are teetering.) Recently, they’ve ended their support of the anti-Assad rebels, causing uncertainty over their role going forward.  They are nominally allied with the Gulf States but behind the scenes work at cross purposes in terms of Rebel support but coordinate closely in terms of fighting ISIS.

ISIS

We won’t be displaying the ISIS flag. They hate everyone and everyone hates them.

Finally ISIS. ISIS hates everyone. Everyone hates ISIS.  ISIS’s ideology and expression of said ideology puts them at violent odds with literally everything around them that does not adhere to their very specific sub-branch of Wahhabi Islam.  As such, they have no real allies or backers on the international scene.  Their funding largely comes from the sale of artifacts looted from archaeological sites, crime, and taxes from conquered territories.  With the loss of Mosul and other territories, their income has been reduced dramatically in the past year.

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The Problem With Pundits

 

Once upon a time, the news was boring.

People tuned in, got their news, then tuned out and went about their lives.

Edward R. Murrow, Journalist

It was the news, after all. It provided a simple, necessary service.  It told you what was happening in the world.  People listened, watched, or read, then that was it. Facts are and ever have been rather boring.

Then one day a man named Bill O’Riley decided to do something different with his news show. He decided to give his opinion on the news. This was not something new. Journalists had put their opinions into the news for a long time…in editorials.  People gave their opinion on the news all the time, like Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, but they didn’t claim to be journalists.  It was just entertainment after all.  The news was serious business.  Sometimes, in a very rare case, a journalist would put their integrity and career on the line like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, to speak out against something they felt was wrong. But it was extremely rare

Bill O’Riley, the first pundit

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Bill O’Riley was different, he decided to give his opinion on every bit of news he reported on. Thus, the first modern pundit was born. It was a ratings hit. People flocked to watch his show, to listen to someone who gave more than just the facts. Some thought he was right.  Some thought he was wrong.  Some thought he was funny.  Others were shocked and angry. The reactions of his viewers went though the roof and all over the place. And more and more people watched his show. The news became entertaining.  A new word was created: “infotainment.”

Since Bill O’Riley was conservative, he gave conservative opinions. Some liberals didn’t like that. One liberal, Keith Olbermann really didn’t like that. He started giving his opinion on every bit of news he reported on as well. His network encouraged him. After all, wasn’t Bill O’Riley’s show the toast of his network? Wasn’t he bringing in more ratings and viewers to his network? Why not make a liberal counterpart to get some of that infotainment money and give the “correct” opinion?

Keith Olbermann, the second pundit

So Keith Olbermann was free to give his opinion on the news, and boy did he. He, too, became popular and famous.  After all, it was infotainment.

That left the other journalists all across the political spectrum talking. Why shouldn’t they give their opinion on the news too? It drove ratings up, which was good for their company. It drove their popularity up which was good for their careers. It got people interested in the news, which was definitely good for the news in general, right?

The news was boring, you see. Giving your opinion on it made it entertaining. Entertaining meant more people would tune in and more people would be informed, right?

So all the other journalists started giving their opinion as well. But the thing about opinions are that they are not facts. They’re opinions. They could be wrong. They could not take into account all the facts. They could suppress facts. They could spin facts into a narrative.

…Gave rise to a sea of pundits.

And so the news stopped being boring. Because it stopped being news.
It became someone else’s opinion…and pesky things like facts only existed now to support the opinion.  If they didn’t support the opinion, then, well, clearly these weren’t facts at all.  After all, they flew in the face of the Truth!

And now the people complain about fake news.  The people do not know whether the news they’re getting is real or fake.  The people believe in the opinions given to them by whatever pundits resonate with them and disregard all others.

And the people did not live happily ever after.

The Problem With Capital Punishment 

US NEWS DEATHROW-TEXAS 1 TB

Capital punishment cannot be ethically implemented under our current system of justice.  While there is a certain utility in removing the worst criminals from our society and a basic justice in punishing the worst murderers, our system of justice as it stands has a record of wrongly convicting people based on faulty evidence, human bias, and inconsistent application of forensics technology, particularly DNA testing.  Indeed, DNA testing, our most accurate forensic science, has shed new light on the number of wrongly convicted death row inmates we have behind bars.  In an article posted by Scientific American, researchers concluded that roughly 4.1 percent of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death are falsely convicted

 DNA profiling was first used in 1985, providing our system of justice with new techniques in the world of forensics.  Most notable being its general acceptance by the scientific community as accurate, testable, and repeatable.  According to the ACLU, “In the US, as of September 2011, 273 people including 17 death row inmates, have been exonerated by use of DNA tests.”   While it is laudable that new advances in science were able to effect such a drastic reform and free many innocent people from an unjust death sentence, it is very disturbing that so many innocent death row inmates were there to begin with, despite our exhaustive appeals process for death row inmates.  This begs the question: If this many innocent people were found on death row, how many more innocent people have we, over the years, executed?  The implications are quite horrifying.

Based on this, we can conclude that there have been people that have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.  Furthermore, we can conclude that our system of justice and capital punishment has executed innocent people.  This is the ultimate travesty of justice.  As noted jurist William Blackstone famously said, “It is better to let a hundred guilty go free than to let one innocent person suffer.”

These findings point to a potential greater number of innocent death row inmates still behind bars, still awaiting their unjust execution.  Not every death row inmate has enjoyed having their case reviewed through the lens of DNA.  Indeed, some states have actively fought against having their death row cases reexamined in this way.  Without an exhaustive accounting of every death row inmate under the lens of DNA, we must conclude that there are still innocent death row inmates awaiting an unjust death.

 

deathrow

 

To execute an innocent person goes against the very foundations of our civilization and our system of justice.  It is an absolute travesty and mockery of everything that we, as a society, believe in.  Therefore, until we can determine guilty or innocence with 100 percent accuracy, we cannot ethically implement capital punishment.

 

The War on Natural Rights

“He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

— Friedrich NietzscheBeyond Good and Evil

 

Ben Franklin once said:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” 

With this quote, Ben Franklin was arguing that a free society, built on the premise of natural rights; including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cannot sacrifice its principals in the name of security, lest it become an un-free society.  Democratic governments are historically quite fragile.  Shocks, either exogenous or endogenous, can lead to drastic actions that either undermine or usurp a democratically elected government.  The curtailing of rights is usually the first step.  Therefore, it is unethical to curtail rights in times of war, lest we lose our ever tentative grasp on liberal democracy.

Hitler, and his government, were democratically elected.

Traumatic and extraordinary times, such as war, create situations where it may seem necessary to sacrifice these rights.  Free speech could be curtailed so as not to “spread enemy propaganda.”  Rights to privacy and unreasonable searches could be sacrificed so as to “aid in the search for enemy spies or agents.”   “Emergency Powers” may be “temporarily” given to the government for the “duration of the crisis.”  Elections can be suspended due to the “necessity of war.”  All of these things have traditionally been the steps through which an authoritarian or totalitarian regime usurps control from a democratic government.  Indeed, during the 1930s Weimer Republic, the Nazi party under Hitler did all of these things in the name of “security.”  It cannot be stressed enough that Hitler and the Nazis were democratically elected by the people of Germany.  By playing to the German peoples’ anger, fears, and uncertainties, Hitler and the Nazis were able to dissolve the Weimer Republic and usher in the Third Reich.

 

The citizens of Egypt demand the end of oppression.

The above example is but one of hundreds of examples throughout history.  Even today, authoritarian and totalitarian dictatorships justify their sweeping powers through the need for security, arguing that their methods are necessary to safeguard the nation.  Famously, for instance, the government of Egypt under Sadat and Mubarak declared a “State of Emergency” in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli War.  Which granted the government sweeping powers of arrest, censorship, and curtailment of human rights.  This “State of Emergency” lasted until 2012 when it was rescinded in the wake of the Arab Spring.  During this time, the Egyptian government enjoyed a monopoly of power at the expense of its citizenry’s right to free speech, expression, assembly, privacy, and other basic rights.

 

Recep Erdogan has been consolidating power since a failed coup attempt in 2016.

History has shown that freedom and liberty are fragile things.  The world that we appreciate and depend on today hangs on a knife’s edge.  Turning our attention to today’s world, we can see the same pattern in current governments.  Russia, where Putin’s United Russia party has held power since the fall of the Soviet Union, is constantly beset by “threats” and “dangers” from all sides, according to the Russian media.  In France, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Far Right “National Front” party experienced a brief surge in the polls culminating in the candidacy of Le Pen.  In Turkey, Erdogan declared a state of emergency, following the 2016 coup attempt which allowed him to silence critical elements of the press and conduct purges in the name of protecting against “those who work against the state.”  To date, the purge has extended beyond those directly involved in the coup to include anyone critical of his administration.  Even in the United States, the fear of terrorism has catapulted candidates like Trump to the Presidency, who actively campaigned on curtailing people’s rights.

 

This is not because people wish to be ruled by dictators.  People are simply just scared…terrified even.  In their fear they turn to bullies to protect them because the bully presents strength and security.  To use a more visceral analogy: Imagine being on a schoolyard playground and being bullied by a group of kids.  Another kid offers to protect you from the bullies.  In return, however, he asks you to do his homework.  You agree, and the kid proceeds to beat up the group that was bullying you.  He then comes back and says that he got in trouble with the teacher.  He demands that you take the blame for him, as he helped you out.  You agree to that too.  After all, he did protect you from the bullies, right?  As time goes on, your protector grows more and more demanding of you, eventually becoming like the bullies that he promised to protect you from to begin with.  This is, essentially, what the curtailment of rights and authoritarianism is on a mass scale.

 

People that are scared will agree to things that they never thought they’d agree to, accept compromises that before would have seemed inconceivable.  In doing so, they accept the curtailment of their rights, one by one, until there are no longer any rights.  But by then, the government is there to soothe them with propaganda.  Those that have curtailed those rights assure the people that all is well and safe…that security and prosperity are well within reach so long as the leaders are allowed to work their changes.  But as Charlie Chaplin said in his movie, “The Great Dictator;”

“By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie, they do not fulfill their promise, they never will.”

 

Indeed, all of these things are lies told by the authoritarian to keep the people from realizing the awful truth: that their freedom has been stolen and their spirits have been shackled.

 

The curtailment of rights is a slippery slope.  A right curtailed here, a new emergency power there, and if one is not careful, one can find oneself in chains.  Therefore, it is unethical to curtail rights, even in times of war.  When fighting monsters, one must take care not to become a monster…or allow the monster through the door.