Ever since late May, when Hezbollah entered Syria’s civil war, the rebellion has faltered. This is the Empire Strikes Back portion of the war. All hope seems lost; serious questions arise about the rebels’ unity; will the evil government crush the heroic rebellion once and for all?

All nonsense aside, people are really dying – in quite large numbers. Over 100,000 now, according to the United Nations. There’s a lot of dead civilians and rebels as well as government soldiers in there. The fog of war obscures the exact toll, but everyone is paying the blood scales.

Assad’s government, quite early on, showed it was fine with shooting and torturing pretty much everyone

This is a governing system as old as the pyramids. When one fucks around with the king, one gets strung up, disemboweled, and has their body parts scattered to the four corners. Europeans as well as Americans forget that this was a rule well applied in their corners of the world not so long ago. The civilizing effect of the Second World War convinced the West that ruling people this way was not only ineffective but barbarous.

Syria missed out on that lesson. Assad may have some silent qualms, exposed as he has been to Western thought, but likely justifies it in a Me vs. Them construct. Better to be the butcher than the butchered.

It took the rebellion some time to get to that point

But with rebel commanders eating peoples’ hearts and shooting kids who use the Prophet’s name in order to make a sale, the rebellion has finally tipped into full-on crazy. Assad’s people were already there day one, prepared for a total war on their opponents. They were ready to spill as much blood as needed to restore the old balance. The rebels for a long time were relatively restrained. But no longer.

The war probably won’t end until some outside power imposes it

Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria and Region...
Bashar al-Assad photographed in a universe where only him and the Syrian flag exist. (Photo credit: james_gordon_losangeles)


After two and a half years of fighting, the government’s momentarily got the initiative. But it still can’t seem to dislodge rebels from Aleppo, where last summer’s offensive by the Free Syrian Army stuttered. Nor does it seem likely to win back the hearts and minds of the Sunni community after playing the sectarian card so hard that whole regions have been torn asunder.

It’s likely that the Syrian army’s equipment is starting to wear down – most of their heavy stuff is Soviet garbage. Repeated air raids, bombardments, and fighting have their toll. Moreover, they’re still outnumbered. The rebels can afford to lose people; the government, less so.

So why not hug it out?

Both sides believe compromise will lead to repression or death. Both sides are still, in many ways, tribal-based, and obsessed with revenge. Arabic societies are famous for their insistence on reconciliation for a lot of minor stuff, like insulting your friends’ mother and cutting you off in traffic, where a variety of customs exist to defuse tension. But once things get escalated past a point, it’s hard for people to stop. “I STRONG,” many of my former students in the Middle East used to say. To imply otherwise were fightin’ words.

For these kind of guys, apologies are for the weak, the losers. Nobody in Syria feels like a loser yet.

The jihadists complicate everything

Alas, these are some real assholes hiding in the ranks of the rebellion. The West doesn’t want to give them any support and so has been afraid to move in with military support for the rebellion. Few want to see another Afghanistan in Syria, but jihadists are like ticks; they hold on for dear life through fire and rain and grow back if not completely killed. When a war-ending move is finally made by the outside world, it should take into account the annihilation of these groups. Alas, when the international community does arrive, it’s unlikely to do that.

Son of Lebanon, not father

Syria long liked to think it was the caring father of poor, fractured little Lebanon. But it turns out Lebanon paved the way for Syria in its own monstrous fifteen year war. There, sects waged war on one another, dividing the capital, until they were exhausted. They too were proxies for bigger powers less than concerned for the locals’ welfare. Syria will likely go that way, too, bled to exhaustion, divided informally with some kind of weak central government, based on sectarian calculations. Assad may not have intended it, but by choosing repression, he’s followed Lebanon’s sadly well-worn path. How terrible it is to see your future in your neighbor’s haunted eyes.

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