There is absolutely no shame in being ignorant on the current conflict in the Middle East. Few subjects compare to the confusion of what is America’s foreign policy.
This is why I’ve taken the time, (a lot of time), to explain, in the simplest of terms, just exactly what is going on in Syria. I’ve essentially broken the article into 4 different sections, Breaking Down the Factions, Key Countries Involved, and Timeline (2003–2016).
If I’ve done my job correctly, by the end of this article, you’ll finally be able to keep up with future foreign policy news. And hopefully, in the process, you’ll recognize just how senseless US foreign policy really is.
Breaking Down the Factions
There are an uncountable number of factions involved in this conflict, most of which, have no clear goals. However, there are four main groups of whom you should take note: The Syrian rebels, the Islamic State, The Kurds, and the Ba’athists.
The Syrian rebels used to be a collection of revolutionaries, devoted to taking down the regime of Bashar al-Assad, (the president/dictator of Syria). When they first formed, they called themselves the Free Syrian Army. As time went by, the rebels became more and more infiltrated by al-Qaeda. At this point, it’s actually more accurate, (yet not as politically correct), to simply label the rebels as al-Qaeda.
For those who are not aware, or who may need their memory refreshed, al-Qaeda is a global Sunni militant group, whose goals vary from Marxist revolutions, to Islamic rule, to plain psychotic desires of violent power. Mant of these al-Qaeda rebel groups are publicly funded by the United States to fight against Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. The US claims to only fund who they call rebel “moderates,” but these groups are no less moderate than any other al-Qaeda faction. Understand that rebel “moderate” groups are simply non-ISIS al-Qaeda, who are often just as brutal as al Quaeda. These are the main groups who compose the rebels:
al-Nusra (Syria): al-Qaeda group constituting the majority of the rebel front. This group is still very loyal to Ayman al-Zawahari, “The Butcher of New York City,” and current leader of al-Qaeda. They are not necessarily friendly to the US and the US doesn’t directly fund them. That being said, it is well-known that US funded groups like Ahrar ash-Sham and various others, hand over weapons and money to al-Nusra. al-Nusra can better be described as al Qaeda in Syria.
Ahrar ash-Sham (Syria): Subgroup of al-Qaeda who the US arms through the Saudi Arabians. It is well known and documented that Ahrar ash-Sham almost immediately turns these guns over to al-Nusra. This group is also one of the main groups within the Islamic front. Even the US knows that Ahrar ash-Sham is affiliated with al-Nusra; it is a mystery as to why they allow their funding.
Islamic Front (Syria): The Islamic Front is a collection of Sunni Islamic rebel groups including Ahrar ash-Sham. This group was formed by the merger of seven other different groups. Keeping it simple, the two main groups that constitute this army is Ahrar ash-Sham, and Jaysh al-Islam, another Saudi Arabian backed rebel group. This group is also aligned with the al-Nusra front and most of al-Qaeda in general.
- Rebel “moderates,” are simply non-ISIS al-Qaeda.
- The term “rebels” can often be interchangeable with al-Qaeda, though there are exceptions.
ISIS is a group of militant Jihadists (holy war fighters), who control the western side of Iraq, much of Eastern Syria, and the Syrian city of Raqqa, which is their command headquarters. They have grown to control a population ranging from 3–8 million people (actual population uncertain), where Sharia Law is strictly enforced.
The group originated as a small, break-off group from American-trained, al-Qaeda rebels, and there is ample evidence that America helped ISIS to become this prosperous. (More on this in Timeline).
Today, they claim to control an area the size of Great Britain, employing approximately 25,000 people. In recent years they have dropped the title of ISIS and now refer to themselves simply as The Islamic State. Their main goal is to simply expand the Islamic State and to eliminate those who would stop them from enforcing strict Muslim law. They essentially fight anyone who stands in their way of expanding the Islamic State.
The Kurds are an ethnic group that span Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds want to expand their ethnic group into an actual country called Kurdistan, a land they claim is rightfully theirs. Today Kurdistan is an area in Iraq granted by the Iraqi government in 1970. The Kurds, however, want to expand this territory to encompass Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey and many of them wish to eventually establish a Marxist/Leninist Socialist state.
The Kurds have been denied citizenship in Syria by Hazef al-Assad (previous President of Syria), and by his son, Bashar al-Assad. The Kurds feel that they are entitled citizenship in Syria as a birthrught. The Kurds also want to use the regime change in Syria to insight a Marxist Revolution, to acquire Syria as a part of Kurdistan. The Kurds fight against ISIS, the Turks, and Bashar al-Assad.
Most of the guns are pointed at the Ba’athists. The Ba’athists are supporters of the fascist government of Bashar al-Assad. The Ba’athists are extreme nationalists, loyal to Assad’s regime. Their main goals are always in line with Assad’s.
The main goal of the US is to overthrow the Ba’athists and, subsequently, Bashar al-Assad. They believe that overthrowing Assad will somehow stop the conflict and weaken Iran, who is an enemy to the US and its allies. The Ba’athists are backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. The Ba’athists currently fight the rebels, ISIS, and the Kurds.
Hezbollah- Shiite Islamic group based in Lebanon and Israel. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, and now control what used to be the southern strip of Lebanon. This southern strip of what used to be Lebanon, was occupied by militia groups, which eventually formed into Hezbollah. Hezbollah has remained ever since, inciting violence and harassing the Israelis.
- Assad is backed by Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia. Loyal Ba’athists mostly fight the rebels and the Kurds.
- The Kurds are backed by the US, and fight ISIS, the Turks, and Assad.
- ISIS fights whoever stands in the way of their caliphate.
- The rebels are backed by the US, Turkey, and the Gulf States via the US. They fight against Assad and ISIS.
Key Countries Involved
Just so I can keep you on the same page, it is probably necessary to also break down the countries involved and their interests in this war. When I finally lay out the timeline, it will be much easier to keep up.
In 2011, the Arab Spring erupted, which was a series of protests along the Arab states. In Syria, the protests were against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. These protests were mostly peaceful, demanding government reform and the end of the corruption. But don’t misunderstand these protests as pro-Democracy ; most of these countries are heavily Marxist and haven’t the faintest understanding of what Democracy actually is. Democracy is just as foreign to them as the Indian caste system is to us.
It became a conflict when the authorities began assaulting protesters, and eventually began to fire on them. The conflict escalated from there and was deemed a Civil War, with many of the protesters joining together to form the Free Syrian Army. This army later joined al-Qaeda.
The United States
The US became involved in the Syrian conflict soon after the end of Iraq War II. The Bush administration found that Iran undesirably benefited from the Iraq War. Iran took control over the Eastern side of Iraq, which is now a satellite state for Iran.
Israel, one of the America’s greatest allies, is constantly being threatened by Iran. It is in America’s best interests, or at least, the administration’s best interest, to weaken Iran.
Since the American people would never pledge allegiance to an Iraq War III, the Bush administration, and subsequently, the Obama administration, had to damage Iran through indirect measures. American leadership decided that the best way to weaken Iran was to go after Bashar al-Assad, who is an ally to Iran.
Present day, America currently finances both sides of the war, backing both Sunni armies and Shiite armies. America’s main objectives remain unclear, and no one has any clue who is supposed to replace Bashar al-Assad after his inevitable downfall.
Russia has secretly been involved with the Syrian conflict for years in the same way the United States has, and has been bombing Syria for over two years now. Russia has a strong influence over Bashar al-Assad, although it wasn’t until recently that the Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly backed Bashar al-Assad. Russia has key military interests in Syria; not only do they have military bases in Syria, but Syria is a key buyer of Russian weaponry, buying their rifles and their Su-35 military planes.
In this conflict, Saudi Arabia can basically be seen as a proxy America. The US finances its rebel allies through Saudi Arabian distributors. Despite whatever nuances in beliefs they might have, Saudi Arabia have, for all intents and purposes, the same goal as the Americans.
As a side-note, other Gulf States such as Qatar also help fund the rebels after the UN set up “Friends of Syria” in 2012. The Gulf States refer to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait.
Turkey is a key player in this conflict. Turkey has two main enemies in this conflict, one being the Kurds. Turkey hates the Kurds because the Kurds are constantly trying to take control of Turkey to create their Kurdistan. Their second biggest enemy is Russia, and they hate Russia for some of the same reasons everyone else in the world hates Russia. Of course, Turkey wants to take down Assad and ISIS as much as most countries do, backing the rebels that fight against them, but Turkey has a particular hatred toward Russia and the Kurds.
What makes Turkey such a key component to this war is how close the Turkish president is to declaring war on Russia. The Turks have already shot down a Russian fighter jet and it’s been reported that President Obama spent an hour on the phone with the Turkish president persuading him not to antagonize Russia.
Another interesting point about Turkey: Turkey is a US ally, yet the Turks fight the Kurds, who are also publicly backed by the US. This makes the Kurds confused about which side the US is really on.
Iran is proof that Iraq War II was a failure even by the US military’s standards, because Iran greatly benefited by gaining control of the eastern side of Iraq. The destruction of Iraq from the US invasion allowed a void in power, and Iran was able to gain more influence in the region. A large motivator for the US participating so heavily in this proxy war has been to weaken Iran. Iran and US tensions go back generations, and I don’t know anyone who actually knows what started this fight.
Iran is mostly composed of Shiite armies, which, as a side-note, America did fight with these armies in the Iraq War. Today, Iran backs Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, which makes it an enemy to most nations. Much of this war is about weakening Iran without actually having to fight Iran.
At the end of Iraq War II, despite money coming in by the millions, much of Iraq looked like a settlement in Fallout 4. I encourage the reader to look at before and after pictures of Iraq, pre-2003 and after 2006. Tensions between the different religious sects that were already present before the war rose even further. Militias took over the streets and killed those who were born in the wrong place, those who were born with the wrong religion, and those with the wrong name.
Iranian military groups took over the Eastern side of Iraq, which is now a satellite state for Iran. The Western side of Iraq became a sort of Jihadistan, and is now a headquarters for al-Qaeda. In 2014, however, ISIS marched across Iraq, violently claiming a great deal of territory to add to their Islamic State.
Today, Iraq is just as contested as Syria, being slightly controlled by all the major factions.
The Timeline; 2003 to Now
Let me first start off by saying that, although this conflict began as a Civil War, it is much more accurate to call this conflict an invasion by the US and the surrounding Arab countries.
2003–2008 Iraq War II
In 2003, President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq, which eventually became what we now call “Iraq War II.” The justification for the invasion was supposed US intelligence that proved Iraqi factions were involved with 9/11 and that the Iraqi government was creating weapons of mass destruction. It is now well-known that the US government falsified intelligence information, using rumors, lies, and hearsay to create a compelling picture that justified an invasion of Iraq.
We went to Iraq in search of chemical weapons, to secure oil fields, eliminate terrorist threats, and to set up a Iraqi democracy. In the process, we killed many hundreds of thousands of insurgents, (freedom fighters against a government invasion, regime, etc), and possibly even more non-combatant civilians. These insurgents were usually no more than regular civilians, who armed themselves in an attempt to protect their country from invasion. This only increased support for al-Qaeda and caused most of the Middle East to despise the US more than they already did. They despise us, not because we are free, but because we tend to make their countries much more unfree.
At the end of Iraq War II, in 2007, the destabilization of Iraq gave Iranian factions control over the eastern part of Iraq. Today, the eastern side of Iraq is firmly influenced by Iran, and is a sort of satellite state for Iran. The western side of Iraq has become controlled by the jihadists. The Bush administration became fearful of Iran’s growing power, and there were fears that Iran had begun building nuclear weapons, as if we hadn’t heard that story before.
George Bush, in 2007, was stuck between Iraq and a hard place, pun intended. He couldn’t start another Iraq War to go after Iran; the American public would find it unacceptable. The only available option was more covert operations and a redirect through Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration, and subsequent Obama administration, decided that the best way to weaken Iran, without having a physical presence in the region, would be to use Saudi Arabia to arm anti-Iranian factions — and use them to terrorize Iran.
In 2008, the Obama administration continued George Bush’s foreign policy and, through Saudi Arabia, the American government has been arming literal al-Qaeda members ever since. The Obama administration claims that we only back “moderate” rebel groups. In reality, these groups are just as brutal as any other al-Qaeda group; the only difference is that they do not carry the brand name of ISIS. Whenever you hear the word moderates, just think “non-ISIS al-Qaeda members.” We have helped fund, or still are helping to fund, al-Nusra, Arhar ash-Sham, along with other smaller rebel al-Qaeda factions like Jundallah and Fatah al-Islam.
2011–2012 The Beginning of the Syrian Conflict
In late 2011, the Arab Spring breaks out, which was a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests across the Arab states. It didn’t become a conflict until Bashar al-Assad ordered troops to began firing upon protesters. Protesters soon began fighting back, and soon formed their own army called the Free Syrian Army, a faction which no longer exists. The Syrian rebels enlisted certain al-Qaeda groups to help fight against Assad, and
Hillary Clinton, secretary of defense at the time, and Barack Obama respond to the Arab Spring and took the side of the rebels. This was followed by rampant funding to rebel forces through Saudi Arabia, upwards of 500 million dollars at a time. Clinton helped set up “Friends of Syria” groups through the UN which entrusted the Gulf States to funnel money into rebel hands. In response, Iran sends in Hezbollah to fight in 2012. This is when the Syrian war becomes a proxy war, where America is fighting Iran using al-Qaeda and Iran is fighting the US using the Ba’athists and Hezbollah.
The Kurds also begin to rise up against Bashar al-Assad, seeing this as an opportunity to regain their civil rights in Syria, which Assad has never recognized. They also see this as a chance to control Syria and grow the Kurdistan state. Seeing the Kurds as a strategic asset, America also funds the Kurds through Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
In 2012, documents were sent across the State Department, CIA, FBI, etc. claiming that an Islamic State was desired in Eastern Syria in order to effect western policies in the region. The report predicted that an Islamic State was likely to form within the next two years. What’s frightening about this document is that it addresses this Islamic State, not as an enemy, but as a strategic asset.
As early as 2012, America has been purposely facilitated ISIS to use as a strategic asset against Assad. We have documented evidence, video evidence, as well as confessions from high ranking government officials proving that America, without exaggeration, helped to create the ISIS that rapes and pillages today. During this time, however, early 2013, ISIS was still mostly an idea.
2013–2016 The Rise of ISIS
By this time, early 2013, the conflict can barely be called a Civil War. Every country has their hands in this conflict, with the Sunni powers (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, and Israel), supporting the rebels and the Shia powers (Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah), supporting Assad.
In 2013, Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians. The casualty calculations are very vague, ranging from only 281 to upwards of 1729 people. America ordered Assad to give up his chemical weapons, which were promptly ignored. Soon after this however, Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered Assad to give up his chemical weapons, to which Assad basically responded “Yes, sir.” This was an interesting event because it illustrates just how closely tied Russia is to the Ba’athists.
In late 2013, America’s rebel training program had taken full effect, which, unsurprisingly, is when ISIS first establishes itself as an influence on the Syrian war. Contrary to what the Americans predicted — and why they funded al-Qaeda in the first place — ISIS doesn’t fight Assad, but instead attacks several factions of al-Qaeda, attempting to carve out the caliphate (definition in link), of what will become the Islamic State.
ISIS also starts to fight the Kurds, whose dreams of Kurdistan do not align well with the Islamic State. In the summer of 2014, ISIS began a march across Iraq carving out a great deal of territory for its caliphate.
In late 2014, the US, once again, begins training Syrian rebels, but this time to specifically fight ISIS. The program failed when these rebels completely ignored ISIS and focused on their own personal power interests. This only goes to show that the US cannot control these rebels. America can only successfully arm and train them, but what they do with such armaments and training is usually not in the best interests of the US.
In 2015, ISIS claimed to have carved out a caliphate the size of Great Britian, stretching from Iraq into large portions of Syria. They then drop the name ISIS, and begin simply calling themselves the Islamic State — and they base their operations in Raqqa, Syria. In this caliphate, Christians are murdered, Sharia Law is strictly enforced, and ISIS members have a tyrannical control on the civilians who live in the areas. The heads of Ba’athist soldiers are mounted on fence posts all throughout the city of Raqqa, vividly illustrating the brutality of the Islamic State.
The Kurds are the greatest threat to ISIS at this point, having one of the largest armies, being slightly more organized than al-Qaeda, and being backed by America. In mid-2015, however, Turkey, who is an ally to the US, begins bombing the Kurds. Instead of focusing on the most brutal threat, ISIS, Turkey focuses on the Kurds. The Kurds have an influence in Turkey, as they do in all of would-be Kurdistan, and the Turkish government does not appreciate their goals of Kurdistan. This leads the Kurds confused as to which side the US is really on, seeing US allies attack their troops does not bring peaceful feelings.
To make matters even more confusing, US-backed al-Qaeda groups have now begun to fight each other, basically meaning that the US is in a war with itself. Shiite groups that we fought for in Iraq War II have now begun firing on our Sunni based groups, showing that there is absolutely no hope in controlling this conflict.
The war changed in 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in late 2015. In response, Russia publicly backed Bashar al-Assad, and the proxy war grows. Although Putin wants to eliminate the Islamic State as well, this drastically increases tensions for America.
In early 2016, a partial ceasefire was declared in Syria at a conference in Munich. The Munich deal was aimed at ending the conflict while still appealing to Russian interests. The ceasefire only applies to certain groups, as al-Nusra, ISIS, along with other rebel groups who the UN deems as terrorist, continue the fighting.
The ceasefire also allows Russia to continue fighting with al-Nusra and ISIS, but this has proved problematic, as Russia has attacked civilian areas under the pretense of fighting ISIS. Since September 2015, Russia has killed at least 1,505 people in Syria, over 300 of which have been children.
The ceasefire is very unlikely to continue due to Russian attacks.