For over a year now, we’ve heard about the chaos that has been growing in fits and starts in Syria. It has a lot of the same themes to which we’ve become quite accustomed to hearing about over the course of the Arab revolutions. A despotic government begins to lose control over the country, government forces react, first with demonstrators demanding more accountability and growth, and those forces react as they always have, with violence and repression. Such reactions have the inevitable tendency to fan the flames of dissent, thus escalating demonstrations to a more structured response on the part of the populace. In the case of Syria, the process has been a slow, albeit consistent build-up to a full blown civil war, and reports of government atrocities continue to mount.
So what’s going to happen in Syria? There’s no reason to think that conflict is going to resolve itself in a peaceful fashion. Syria, backed by its diplomatic patrons in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran have all but dismissed the possibility of ceding power to a transitional government that would allow the Assad regime a route of exiting. The fact of the matter is that the Assad regime will only be able to cling to power through more violence and repression, and that has the result of escalating what has thus far been a low-grade civil conflict into an all out civil war.
A civil war in Syria could take a few forms, but what’s looking increasingly likely is a sectarian conflict, pitting the country’s elite Alawite minority sect, the crew that’s running the show, against everyone else. There could be parallels with the conflict in Yugoslavia from the 1990s which would lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide, as groups jockey for power (read: the beginnings of mass killings between Christians, Alawites, Sunnis and Shia) which would lead to an escalation of violence between all of the constituent populations within the country.
The fact of the matter is that China, Russia and Iran, in backing the Assad regime with such gusto has no other logical outcome than to foment the forces that will inevitably blow the lid off of Syria, which would prompt much, much more violence than what we’ve seen thus far. In defending their client state, those countries are assuring its total and utter ruin. And unlike a place, like, say, Libya, a civil conflagration in Syria will have far more serious and far reaching consequences that what we ever contended with in North Africa.