Syria: searching for the „lesser evil”

Introduction written in December 17, 2014.

I have originally posted this article on April 28, 2013 in World Outline: I just added the introduction and the new conclusions to the old text.

The reason why I post it here also is that US president Barack Obama stated that he wants to intensify efforts to overthrow Syrian President – Bashar al-Assad. The same attitude was presented almost two years ago and the situation in Syria from that time has worsened very much. I like to present the article I issued then, when the situation was not such disastrous as it is today and I like to be like a warning to not make the same mistake as then.

Text of the article from April 28, 2013

There are always extreme situations which require military engagement, but it should only be the ultimate solution. This article argues that extremist influences in Syria are the real threat the world should be considering in the Syrian conflict.

The author, as a former soldier, is not a man who believes in a world without wars, but understands how wrong wars are. “Making peace and not war” sounds idealistic, or even unrealistic, but it should be the real mantra for any powers who have influence on the internal situation in Syria. It is not true that there are no diplomatic solutions in this conflict. Just the powerful countries cannot get consensus of what should be the solution for Syria.

Others – key players in the region – want to benefit from the situation without thinking about the victims of that war, which has been well described in Why the West should arm Syria rebels and Why the West Shouldn’t arm Syrian rebels. The West is in favour of ousting President Bashar al-Assad and subsequently establishing a new government of national unity. But at the same time, other opinions expressed by Russia and China call for dialogue and cooperation between the president and the opposition.

In Syria it seems that the only solution is to bring together government and rebels to fight against extremist tendencies within the opposition movement. In other words, the West should be more afraid of Al-Qaeda-like organisations than of Iran and its influence, as it is impossible to fight against too many enemies. Arming and supporting one of the conflicting sides, even if it is political or with non-lethal equipement, only pushes Syrians and outside fighters to engage deeper in heavy clashes. It has turned the conflict into a proxy war and it seems that it is spiralling out of the control of any party involved in the conflict.

In this situation, shipping arms to any side will just make the situation worse. Moreover, most of the world already agrees that the real threat for the people in Syria comes from extremists, who are not fighting either for the Syrian government or the opposition. Those fighters aim to destroy the previous order and to build some kind of unity spreading over boundaries, with an extremist idea and in opposition to most of the known world orders.

Those movements, like Al-Qaeda or Al-Nusra, have large support bases in some countries, and gain influence all over the world; especially in weak states, where war and chaos resulted in weak state structures. To defend itself against this kind of enemy, all – the West and Middle East, Far East – should find a way to build consensus. Key world players involved in the Syrian conflict (USA-EU and Russia-China) need to take a common stance to face this situation. Regional powers, such as Turkey, Iran, Egypt or Israel, would welcome a consensus. The main obstacle in doing so however, is Bashar al-Assad and his regime, because the West sets the removal of the regime as a condition to support any negotiations.

Russia and China argue for forcing the rebels and Al-Assad to negotiate, however, any situation of divided powers will enhance disagreement within Syria and strengthen the influence of extremists. Moreover, rebels are in mainly cooperating closely with the extremists, who are dominated by anti-Iran and anti-Assad propaganda. From another point of view, the opposition, which is divided cannot establish a credible leadership.

The most important question for the rebels in Syria is, what they can offer when winning the struggle for power? The case of Syria seems to be more like the situation in Libya than in Tunisia or Egypt. In Libya we had foreign intervention backing the side of the opposition, which was not united but formed of opposing tribes. In Tunisia or Egypt, the opposition was united with the military against the regime. However, even if the society composition in Syria is completely different from that in Libya, both are deeply divided.

As long as this turmoil is sustained, radicals are gaining advantage. Their power is the result of the support of the Syrian people, who are terrified by the calamities and depravity of war. Therefore, they are willing to support anyone who will give them stability. Arming rebels will bring the country to its knees sooner rather than later, and the moment will come when all sides will understand that this process only leads to the ruin of the country – not only in the sphere of infrastructure but it also changes the minds of the people involved.

Some comparison could be made to the conflict in Mali, which showed that, with the emergence of a common new enemy, common ground can be found to rebuild unity inside the country. In the Malian conflict, Tuaregs were returning to the position of the government because the worst enemy for both sides were the extremists. Such a strong, brutally determined and radical enemy should wake foreign powers to seek lesser evil. Most importantly, trying to unite the Syrian people to avoid the breaking apart of the society – as it is happening in Iraq – is the most important thing.

The best option would be to implement the arms embargo for every side fighting in this conflict. However, it will be impossible to stop the flow of weapons from Iran or Libya to the Syrian government and to the extremists from Iraq or Saudi Arabia to Syria. This makes the need even to bring rebels and government members to negotiations even more urgent.

The situation in Syria seems to get more complicated with every week. There is no easy way out of the civil war, but there is a burning need to decide on the lesser evil as the solution to the crisis. This lesser evil would be to support peace negotiations and hold up extremist influences as a common enemy of Syrian government forces and opposition members.

Conclusions for the December 17, 2014:

Following my conclusions from nineteenth months ago, I have to say, that the situation got much more complicated because there are still so called „rebels” fighting but the Al-Qaede and it’s affiliates has evolved into the so called Islamic State. In June 10, 2013, Abdel Basset Al-Tawil CO of the northern front of FSA admitted in the interview in Al-Jazeera that he cooperate with Al-Nusra and his aim is to build together with them a state based on Islamic rules. The interview shows that this commander’s ideology is closer to IS than to the western values imposed on „Rebels”. I strongly believe, that the policy of closing eyes for the complexity of the Middle East and dividing people on good – those who support West and wrong – those who doesn’t is extremely dangerous.


Autor: Milczanowski Maciej

Maciej Milczanowski Maciej is a former professional soldier, participant of two foreign missions: UN in Golan Heights commander of platoon and position (1997-1998) and NATO Iraq Battle Capitan in Tactical Operation Center (2004-2005). Holds an MA in National Defense Academy in Warsaw and Ph. D. in Jagiellonian University both on politics in ancient history and he now works in University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland. Visiting Fellow in Hoover Institution, Stanford University. CEO of Institilute for Research of the National Security and leader of the Zimbardo Center for Conflict Resolution (Z-CenterC&R)

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