The war in Syria could transform the world.
It is important in two ways. First, it can reshape the Arab world.
More importantly, it has implications for the world order and western society. It’s a war that has drawn the US, Russian, Iranian, Turkish, and French forces. That’s along with the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaida, and secular Arabs. The Saudis and other Arab monarchies are exerting their political and economic influence on Syria.
What we are seeing now is history repeating itself.
Prior to World War II, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy sent troops to fight the Civil War in Spain. They supported Franco’s fascists. The Soviet Union was there as well, backing the other side. And then there were the leftists from around the world flocking there to fight. The French and British were sitting on the side, watching.
The Spanish Civil War was the rehearsal for World War II. The major players of the European war were there—though some weren’t. New weapons and tactics of firebombing (remember Guernica, lest we forget) were tried out. The civil war ended in April 1939, five months before Germany invaded Poland, which began World War II.
The same thing is now happening Syria with its war drawing in major global and regional powers. We now have the US and Russia engaged in a country. Both have different goals and support hostile faction. That means the war has becomes a test of the strength of powers of the US and Russia. And their interests lie far beyond Syria.
The US, Russia, and Iran are all active in Syria and unable to end the conflict. That left the Turks. The Turks hated the Assad regime. So when the Russians first intervened on the side of Assad, the Turks shot down a Russian plane. The result: a serious confrontation. Then, there was an attempted coup in Turkey, and the Turks turned against the Americans who they partly blamed for the failed coup. And in the weirdness of it all, they got closer to the Russians. It didn’t take the Turks long to realise the Russians were inflexible on Assad. And so the Turks shifted back toward the Americans. The Turks say they are prepared to fight IS, but only if the US accepts that the Turks are waging a simultaneous war with the Kurds.
Syria did not simply draw players into its conflict. It sent huge numbers of refugees to Europe as well. This triggered a huge crisis in the European Union, dividing countries that wanted to block migration from those that would encourage it. This compounded already existing tensions in Europe over the economy. It is reasonable to say that Syrian migrants shaped the Brexit vote, encouraged the rise of radical nationalist groups throughout Europe, and redefined the underlying issues.
It’s an issue now focussing minds at the United Nations.
The Paris terrorist attacks had another effect as have terrorist attacks around the world. Again, Syria was at the epicentre. The inability of European forces to block the terrorists or to take effective unilateral action against IS after the attacks on Paris and other cities, generated not only greater military involvement in Syria, but long-term planning to manage the fallout from the conflict.
The Israelis and the Saudis are watching on the sideline, while Lebanon is constantly uncertain. Iraq is heavily influenced by what is happening in Syria. Meanwhile, the Kurds, facing IS in Iraq, are now facing Turkish forces in Turkey and Syria.
And the Europeans are coping with a wave of terrorism and contemplating rearmament in the post-Brexit EU.
All of this is driven by Syria, a country gridlocked in a permanent and insoluble war Syria has brought together friends, enemies, and contenders for power in a small place.
For the first time since the 1940s, all of Eurasia is unstable. The only place in the world not affected is China, and they have their own problems.
Syria to the world was what Spain was in the 1930s. This is why it matters to you.