Just what have we witnessed in the recent events in Syria? It’s hard to know, given the avalanche of superficial and over-the-top headlines in most U.S. media: betrayal of the Kurds, handing Syria over to Russia, caving to Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, bestowing a gift upon Iran, allowing ISIS to once again run wild, end of U.S. leadership.
Yet the bottom line of the story is that after some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm. The Syrian government is now close to re-establishing its sovereign control again over the entire country. Indeed, Syria’s sovereign control over its own country had been vigorously contested, in fact blocked, by many external interventions — mainly on the part of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a few European hangers-on — all hoping to exploit the early uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and overthrow it. In favor of what was never clear.
Much of this picture has a long history. The U.S. has been trying to covertly overthrow the Syrian regime off and on for some 50 years, periodically joined on occasion by Israel or Saudi Arabia or Iraq, or Turkey or the U.K. Most people assumed that when the Arab Spring broke out in Syria in 2011 that civil uprisings there too would lead to the early overthrow of another authoritarian regime. But it did not. This was in part due to Asad’s brutal put-down of rebel forces, in part because of the strong support he received from Russia, Iran and Hizballah, and in part because large numbers of Syrian elites feared that whoever might take Asad’s place — most likely one or another Jihadi group — would be far worse, more radical and chaotic than Asad’s strict but stable secular domestic rule.
Nonetheless over this entire time the U.S. has been willing to support almost any motley array of forces, including even extremist jihadi forces linked with al-Qaeda, to try to overthrow Asad. Washington has never gotten over the fact that Syria for over half a century has never bowed to U.S. or Israeli hegemony in the region, and has all along been a strong supporter of Syria’s secular —yes secular —Arab nationalism. The U.S. has therefore shown great willingness to “fight to the last Syrian” if necessary to achieve its ends.