Recently, the U.S. State Department publicly accused Russia of arming Bashar Al Assad’s government with tanks and ammunition in Syria’s fight against rebel groups.
What’s known is why Russia is choosing sides in this complicated conflict. For Russia they not only see in Syria a soft military alliance—they have a hard military alliance with Syria’s ally Iran—but Russia also sees in Syria a loyal customer and purchaser of military equipment (in the Billions of dollars annually).
Even more than that, Russia views Syria as a strategic partner in maintaining a certain amount of hegemony in the Middle East.
For several decades, Russia has supplied Syria with weapons. Before the Iraq War began in 2003, Russia was a key partner of Saddam Hussein’s on many fronts, including oil exchanges for military hardware.
Now that 1 out of 3 of Russia’s strategic Mideast partners—Iraq—is no longer a key ally, Russia cannot afford to let Syria succumb to Western influence.
Which Opposition Faction to Support?
So, we understand why Russia is meddling in Syrian affairs. However, what some people may not know is why the U.S. is not.
To be clear, we aren’t ignorant enough to assume the U.S. is doing absolutely nothing in Syria. On the contrary, the opposite is most likely true. But for the U.S. to be publicly involved in the Syrian conflict requires an understanding of the conflict itself and, moreover, the enemies involved in the conflict.
The U.S. and the world are sure that the Assad regime has committed atrocities against its own people. It would seem to many that the choice is clear for the U.S. to intervene to stop the massacres.
The Americans should support those freedom-loving rebels, right? Well, not so fast.
Unfortunately for the U.S., the opposition in Syria is comprised of at least three main groups: (1) moderate non-Islamic freedom loving rebels, (2) Islamic moderates who favor an Islamic government, and (3) Islamic extremists who favor an extreme Islamic government and who would be hostile to Israel and Western nations.
Until now, these three opposition factions have been playing somewhat nice with each other. After all, they have a common enemy. If Assad’s regime is to fall, it’s in the best interests of the U.S. if the new government were led by the first group of moderates.
Most likely, that won’t be the case. The problem is that the U.S. is trying to navigate the trickiness of promoting the whole opposition without supporting certain elements of the opposition.
The Iran ‘X’ Factor
It’s no secret that Iran and Syria have been partners for decades now. Though one is Persian and the other Arab, they are both Shia-led governments who despise U.S. meddling in the Middle East.
Iran has already threatened war with Israel if Western countries (including the U.S.) intervene in Syria. Though the U.S., Israel, and their allies are plenty capable of withstanding any hostility from Iran, the good guys must be sure beyond sure that meddling in Syria is worth a potential conflict with Iran.
And that’s why the U.S. is not meddling much in Syria just yet. If the U.S. can figure out a way to achieve the end result of a much more friendly (pro-U.S.) government in Syria, then we’ll no doubt do whatever it takes to get there. That’s probably a long shot, though.
Until then, until the U.S. knows exactly who its enemies are and how to deal with them, it won’t intervene in a public way.