War is so much easier to start than to stop. Especially today when almost all wars are essentially local and it’s so easy for small forces of local ambition to arm themselves sufficiently to bully their way to local dominance. You can see this in Afghanistan, and in Syria.
In Syria, the ready supply of outside sponsors has up-armed once-local militias and encouraged them to escalate their ambitions — to control not just towns, but counties, or regions. In Syria, the regions are small and closely packed, so expanding ambitions frequently overlap and clashes multiply.
Foreign money has fueled the fighting in Syria, from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, from Qatar and Turkey, Iran, Russia and the US. The funding has been so generous, has spilled so many weapons across so many local organizations, that they have felt licensed to to follow their own particular agendas as far as their arms will take them. They settle their own local scores whether their attacks serve the interests of their sponsors or conflict with them.
Take the conflicting interests of the United States and its Kurdish allies in northern Syria. They came together, when the US first actively entered the war in Syria, to save the Kurdish city of Kobani. They shared a common enemy, the Islamic State, but not a common purpose. The US wanted to destroy the Islamic State; the Kurds wanted what could come next, Rojava, an autonomous Kurd-run territory that ran the length of Syria, just south of the border with Turkey.
The Kurds helped the US accomplish its goal and chasing Islamic State forces out of their so-called capital city of Raqqa…although some Kurd commanders let defeated jihadi fighters and their families bribe their ways to Turkey or Lebanon. US signed on to a Rojava East…handing over the northeastern third of Syria, everything north and east of the Euphrates River…to the control of an American-trained, American-armed, American-advised Kurd-run army of 30,000, supplemented by a few thousand American troops stationed nearby.
But some Kurdish fighters haven’t been bound by the Euphrates River and have seized control of an area well west of the river and the American forces. These Kurdish forces, and hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled to the once quiet Afrin pocket, have come under attack by the Turkish Army.
The US has made it clear, it won’t support the Afrin Kurds, who are under heavy pressure from the Turks. So the Kurds have sought the support of Syrian President Assad, first to let Kurdish troops pass through government areas to fight against Tuirkey in Afrin, and now, in what could be a major escalation, it is reported that the Syrian Army will also tackle the Turkish invaders.
For the US, this means watching their friends the Kurds get friendlier with our enemy Bashar al-Assad to repulse our ostensible NATO ally Turkey.
It’s a similar indigestible mix for the Russians whose friend the Syrian Government has declared Turkey it’s enemy of enemies, at the very time that Russia has been trying to cement friendlier relations with the Turks.
Far below the level of strategies and policies and alliances brief and lasting, at ground level, the violence is as bad as ever, with heavy exchanges, causing great loss of civilian life in the north, around Afrin, to the west around Idlib, and much farther south, in the eastern suburb of Damascus called Ghouta the Government while talking about the Turks has shelled its own civilians.
Charles Glass is a broadcaster, journalist and writer, who began his journalistic career in 1973 at the ABC News Beirut bureau with Peter Jennings. He covered the October Arab-Israeli War on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. He also covered civil war in Lebanon, where artillery fire wounded him in 1976. He was ABC News Chief Middle East correspondent from 1983 to 1993. Since 1993, he has been a freelance writer in Paris, Tuscany, Venice and London, regularly covering the Middle East, the Balkans, southeast Asia and the Mediterranean region. He has also published books, short stories, essays and articles in the United States and Europe. Just last year he published Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe.