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Debunking Three Syrian Civil War Myths

Myth #1

Climate Change caused the Syrian War and its correlative support statement. Daraa was the center of the opposition.

This myth has been repeated universally to the point that some academics include it in their research. A close examination shows the drought of 2005 to 2007 was a factor but it was a minor factor compared to other, larger issues. Charles Lister in his seminal work The Syrian Jihad reminds all analysts that prior to the Arab Spring there was a Damascus Spring in 2000, with Bashar Assad’s ascension to power bringing the promise of reform and visible movement towards economic reform.

These reforms, according to Lister and others, accentuated the existing corruption that clogged the economic wheels of Syria. In addition, Assad started reducing military expenditure, diverting the funds to economic reforms, though greatly hampered by George W. Bush administration sanctions; therefore, creating a weaker military comprised mostly of Alewite officers commanding some 200,000 Sunni conscripts.

It is important to add another disastrous George W. Bush action that fueled both the demonstrations and the rebellion: the 2003 Iraq invasion. The Iraq invasion fueled the hope of the Kurdish population spread across Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. (The Battle for Syria: Christopher Philips)Though, Daraa broke into revolt on 15 March 2011, the northern area ofAl-Hasakah (largely Kurdish area) saw the first Arab Spring-like action when Hasan Ali Akleh set himself on fire. This was followed by imprisoned Kurdish activists demanding freedom and demonstrations five days before Daraa in Qamishli and al-Hasakah.

A full month before Daraa, the mythological start of the revolt, shopkeepers in Damascus’ famous Souq al-Hamadiyya protested before being joined by 5,000 other Damascene. In addition, there were constant calls for Days of Rage nationwide prior to Daraa.

The American invasion of Iraq had a much larger fatal impact. As discussed by Lister and others, it served as a magnet to Sunni Jihadis from Syria and other parts of the region who would later return to Syria armed, trained, and battle-ready. Ahrar Al-Sham, Saudi funded, would show up in one of the first battles in 2011. Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra would show more caution during 2011 but by mid-2012, as the United States sponsored Free Syrian Army faded, it assumed a leadership role in the revolt.

In terms of armed revolt, Daraa was the third battle of the revolt behind Rastan and Rif Dimashq some two months earlier. In even further contrast, Adam Baczko et al in Civil War in Syria cites June as the first battle of the Syrian Civil War. However, without doubt the March 2011 incidents in Daraa were most sensational and exploitable by the news media because they involved children and provided the best news copy with a Syrian official supposedly telling the families to go make more children and if their husbands could not his men would help. (By now it is fairly certain this never happened.)

In a small concession to the Climate Change theory—borne out of the drought—Baczko points out that largely the non-Free Syrian Army-rebels were from the disaffected countryside. However, the Climate Change theory displays the lack of understanding of Syrian history as described in Philip Khoury’s Urban Notables of Syria. The conflict between the wealthy Damascene landowners and merchants, who controlled the politics of both Ottoman and post-Ottoman Syria, and the rural population by far is the greatest shaper of the events of 2011.

Why is busting this myth important? To cite the March 2011 Daraa events or Climate Change as the cause of the war negates the complexity of Syrian dynamics. No doubt, it played into President Obama’s simpleton approach of arming the Free Syrian Army as a means to bring about regime change and ignoring the much deeper division in Syria. The Syrian Civil War, only on the surface, was about regime military deserters to be exploited by the United States. The Free Syrian Army, rightfully, fell apart within its first seven months as evidence of the greater dynamics. This President Obama and Hilary Clinton blunder ultimately would aid in the death of nearly 500,000 Syrians.

Myth #2

Iran must be countered in the region to stop Iranian regional expansion.

Over 40 years ago, a high-level Vietnamese government official, who was tired of the American led war, responded to the typical United States government tirade about how the United States was fighting to stop Chinese domination with the following:

“If you believe you are here to stop the Chinese then why don’t you go to China and fight them and leave us alone.”

As a young intelligence analyst in Vietnam, this analyst had a similar response after hearing the Domino Theory at a staff meeting.

“Do you know the history between Vietnam and China?”

Therefore, the United States policy in the Levant can only be described as insane when insanity is described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The United States needs to learn that nationalism trumps everything. It is for this reason the so-called scholar-General Mattis needs to be placed in the same dunce class as General McChristianson of Vietnam infamy.

First, any rookie-Middle East student knows the area known as Greater Syria is the historical home of Arab Nationalism. This has been well-described in The Great Syrian Revolt by Michael Provence or in The Commander by Lila Parson recounting the struggles of the great (if not ill-fated) Fawzi al-Qawuqji. It is for this reason the Balfour Declaration, in Greater Syria, is considered a supreme act of betrayal by the powers that now wants to control the destiny of Great Syria.

First, it is important to face one ugly truth: Iran did not suddenly appear in Syria in 2011. After the collapse of Soviet empire in 1990, Syria was in need of another benefactor. George W. Bush shut the door on any United States influence in Syria with sanctions. Syria had supported Iran against Iraq during their ten year war so the governments were already bonded. President Obama opened the door again in 2010 until he was pressured by Susan Rice and Secretary State Clinton to change the United States strategy to regime change.

As far as politically dominating Syria, a review of the events in Iraq bears close examination. Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sets the best model. University of Exeter’s Muhanad Seloom has written that Sadr’s views on Iraqi Nationalism undermines any Iran’s influence. This belies the idea pushed by the United States Intelligence Community that Iran will form a Shia block and control the region. This author conducted extensive interviews in Lebanon during 2017 and found a similar view of Iran in Lebanon.

Why? This is a region that has struggled to gain control of their own destiny for over a hundred years. It is not logical to assume that suddenly Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq would suddenly become Iranian client states. Finally, one must listen to the words of Iran’s President Rouhani when he describes the relationship with the region as cooperative and not dominating.

Second, much has been made of Iran’s need to connect Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon for military supplies. The United States has acted on this exaggerated belief by building an “observation” post at al-Tanf claiming its purpose is to monitor the Islamic State, which is ridiculous since the Islamic State today is largely confined to small pockets in the Syrian desert to the south. Al-Tanf, with over 4,000 American troops, has been established on the Iraq-Syria border to monitor Iranian land movements.

This land connection was vital during the period of 2014-2018 when Iran had an active involvement in the Syrian War but today “Air Hezbollah” lands on the hour at Beirut’s Rafic Harir International Airport. In addition, Iran and Russian, thanks to aggressive United States foreign policy, now have a joint military agreement which allows Russia access to the Iranian airbase at Noyeh, Iran in exchange for continued use of the Syrian base commonly called T4.

It would not be a stretch to suggest that the United States involvement in the Syrian War has been the greatest aid to Iranian integration in the region with Iran/Hezbollah controlling the PMU forces in Iraq, Hezbollah emboldened in the region, and Assad in critical debt both economically and militarily to Iran. Finally, the United States has “bet the farm” on its relationship with the Kurds as a regional wedge. This bet will fail because the Kurds are ultimately pragmatic. They know eventually the United States will go away and they must live within the regional relationships or be at perpetual war.

Only the clinically insane would assume that 4,000 troops, stranded like sitting ducks on the Iraq-Syria border, had any military purpose except to provoke further conflict. It dredges up images of Bien Dien Phu and Khe Sanh.

Myth #3

Two parts to this myth: the Islamic State was a threat to the world and second the United States is in Syria to stop this threat.

This analyst believes the Islamic State, after thorough academic study, will be exposed as a fluke of history and a limited threat. This academic review has just begun with Max Abrahms’ recent publication of Rules for Rebels: the science of victory in militant history and The Master Plan:ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory by Brian Fishman.

Fishman goes to the heart of the Islamic State’s myth with the conquest of Mosul when he describes it as “ISIS did not actually fight its way into Mosul…the (Iraqi) army collapsed. He also reported that Mosul’s residents initially welcomed the Islamic State under the mistaken belief they would offer them protection. Abrahms equally savages the Islamic State when he supports President Obama’s initial assessment as the “JV” team, meaning not a prime fighting force.

Abrahms cites the Islamic State’s leader al-Baghdadi as described by Jayish al-Mujahideen leader Abu Abdullah Mohamed al-Mansour in The Islamic State: Disentangling Myth from Reality as being a “mental mediocrity with with limited intelligence”.

When the final history of the Islamic State is written it will be discovered as a hoax as a world threat. It claimed terrorist attacks that it had not organized, coordinated, or funded. Most of the territory it held was vast uninhabited desert and its second major urban territory—Raqqa—could also be described as a set-up since the Syrian government’s forces were conveniently diverted by a United States and Saudi funded war.

In addition, there are gaping questions regarding support for the Islamic State by Israel and even the United States, with documented incidents of United States resources being used to evacuate Islamic State fighters to safe havens and the significant discovery of United States-origin weapons in its arsenal. It has even been suggested that towards the later stages of the effective fighting life of the Free Syrian Army it was a conduit for the resupply of various Jihadi forces ranging from al-Nusra to the Islamic State.

In reality, the Islamic State collapsed almost as fast as it grew. Its purpose had been achieved; provide the United States an excuse to enter the war.

William Church
Islamic World Books