The Syrian Civil War has been characterized by the United Nations as the “great humanitarian crisis of our age”. A nation of twenty million, Syria has lost twenty percent of its population, most of whom have fled as international refugees. On the other hand, over a hundred thousand foreign militants have gone there to fight, and the armed forces of a dozen nations have deployed in what has become one of the biggest proxy wars in all of history.
And it’s nearly over.
The last major stronghold of the so-called “Islamic State” (known variously as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) in Syria is the major city of Raqqa. In conjunction with the Iraqi advance on Mosul, the present campaign to reduce this city (for background, see this Wikipedia article) will mark the end of ISIS as a contigious power. Once it’s over, all that’s left is extensive mopping-up operations in the desert and negotiating a post-war solution between the US-backed SDF (mainly Kurdish forces), the Free Syrian Army, and the governmental forces under Russian-backed Assad.
Or more years of proxy war; who really knows at this point? But the dissolution of ISIS, a group that even Canada went to war against, will remove the major cause (some would say pretext, but I’m leaving that alone) for American involvement. While we do owe our Kurdish allies a vast debt, it’s unlikely the American people would back a ground war in their favor once ISIS is gone.
A lot depends on how this final major battle ends. ISIS has tremendous strength inside the city, and it won’t be an easy fight. But more dangerous by far is the congregation of rival powers in the area and the attendant friction between them. Everyone wants a part of this victory because everyone wants the city afterward — its vital crossroads, dams, power generation, and oilfields. Whoever holds it will dominate the region during the ISIS mop-up and then going into the peace talks.
Right now, Syrian governmental forces are driving south of the city, present in the area for the first time in three years. The US-backed SDF is moving in relentlessly from the north. And Russia is becoming involved.
Over the last few weeks, tensions between the United States, Syria, and Russia have increased dramatically. Beginning on 7 April 2017, when the United States attacked a Syrian airfield from which the government had staged chemical weapon strikes against opposition civilians (notably at Khan Sheykhoun), incidents have been increasing. Coinciding with the 6 June advance by the SDF, Syrian government forces began to move into the area of an American training base and were fired on by American aircraft. Government drones have attacked SDF positions and were shot down by American aircraft; most recently, on 20 June, a Syrian fighter-bomber was destroyed by an American F-15E — again, after it attacked the SDF. Now, Russia has designated American aircraft to be valid targets for their own in-country air force.
This is where we worry.
Before yesterday, the United States had no real stake in this conflict. Yes, there was a mission to aid our allies and defeat ISIS — and we do hate ISIS. But open conflict with Syria is one thing; air battles with Russian national forces would be quite another.
I’m not going to get into an explanation of how we got here and what should have been done differently. I’m also not going to try to argue options for US policy going forward. That’s potentially of interest, sure, but it’s not the sort of thing civilians properly ought to be posting on the Internet during a time of (potential) war.
I will, however, just point out a couple of things:
(1) The Russian propaganda arms are intensifying anti-American stories. This tells us that the Russian government is willing to spend a lot of money to influence public opinion both here and around the world.
(2) Direct Russian military involvement within Syria has been increasing. This tells us they believe they can successfully win in a local conflict.
(3) American and international coalition forces deployed to Syria have been stable, but most countries have decreased or halted operations in response to Russian pressure. This tells us global perception is that Russia is willing to get directly involved.
I can’t tell you what’s about to happen over the next couple of days. Whatever happens, it’s going to be unpleasant, and people in power around the world are going to try to distract us from it. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing.
Meanwhile: Don’t buy the propaganda. Don’t spread it. Keep one eye on the news — and don’t panic.
Postscript: I’m going to go into more detail on what is or is not propaganda in upcoming articles, but for now, here’s some general rules of thumb:
(1) RT is propaganda. Any story they publish is pro-Russia; in a situation like this, that means it’s anti-America and as likely to be a deliberate lie as not. Goebbels would be proud.
(2) Any story that says Coalition or American forces are using chemical weapons, deliberately attacking civilians, or anything of that sort is very probably deliberate propaganda. (I’ve explored four major ones this week; thus far, all four are turning out to be both sensationalist and baseless.)
(3) Any story that accuses Assad of targeting civilians or using chemical weapons is actually plausible, because he has done that pretty consistently over the past fifteen years.
(4) CNN is pro-Democrat and anti-Trump, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s anti-American. Matters of internal politics will almost always be subject to excessive bias; matters of warfare are probably uninformed (like everyone else) and possibly pro-American.
(5) BBC, Al-Jazeera, et cetera are all, like RT, government-sponsored media outlets. They are not free and independent. This doesn’t mean they lie; it does mean their bias is predictable.
(6) Internet memes are not a trustworthy source of news. Neither is Twitter; historically, Russia in particular has generated a ton of fake news feeds through similar outlets.