I’ve written plenty about Syria since the nation plunged into civil war. I pray for those who suffer in ruined homes, for those who wait in refugee camps, for those oppressed by both sides. These are the casualties of a sustainable conflict in which rebels can hide, arms can be shipped over the border, and Syria’s military retains its air power. You’re looking at a sort of bloody balance only broken by a definitive victor or outside intervention. But what kind of future can the people expect? Let’s see some projections for one of the worst civil conflicts of the early century.
Syria is remapped to include “No Man’s Land”. Even if Bashar Al-Assad reconquers the land from the Free Syrian Army, the rebels will not give up the fight. Better for a dominant Damascus to cordon off the old war zones and contain the insurrectionists. Think slums. Think ghettos. Think barbed wire, high walls and watch towers. Think an urban area severed from utilities. . . meaning people will starve and perish. Resistance fighters become endangered animals. Containment may be a darker alternative for Bashar Al-Assad, but he doesn’t have to waste the troops.
The quiet guerrilla war. Assad has spent gobs of cash on a war that has redefined the social makeup of his state. There is no cohesion. There is no order. Were he to wipe out the heaviest pockets of resistance, he could still spend years running down guerrillas. Rebels that make use of the country for survival and find their own means of resupply are very hard to kill. Rebuilding Syria would be disrupted. Refugees might be reluctant to come home. Damascus supporters might be inclined to leave. Assad’s inheritors would undoubtedly pick up the tab for a ruined nation.
Outsiders become insiders. Direct intervention from an international coalition is a pipe dream. Air strikes can easily flatten the Syrian Army, but you can’t sack a regime without ground forces. And as we’ve learned from Baghdad and Kabul, there is always a cost for occupation. Coalition soldiers instantly become humanitarians for millions of displaced citizens. The task of rebuilding falls upon the occupants. Then there are rebels with no love for Western authorities. If the bombings in and around Damascus and the assassination of key Assad players are any indication, some factions will react like vicious dogs.
Civil War I rolls into Civil War II. Many fighters have their own ideas for how Damascus should be run. Some groups are more than vocal about the outcome, prompting the question about who really wins in the end. Recent upsets in the Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council have created ripples in organized resistance. If a league of victorious survivors is unable to unite because of old grudges, then one civil war could easily churn into another.
Freedom fighters need a place to work. How ’bout Lebanon? Lebanon and Jordan are housing lots of Syrian refugees. These states could be temporary havens for Syrians opposed to Assad if the Syrian Army takes back the country. But if they fail to unite and Assad tightens his security, give them a shelf life.
The best outcome: a remade government. This is not a war to run its course. The war must be contained by international governments willing to play hardball with Damascus and rebel factions on the foundation of a coalition government. The United Nations should mediate with all the discipline of an English governess. Peacekeepers should seize any cross-border shipments of weapons, fuel and spare parts to prevent anyone from gearing up again. Sanctions can be replaced with loans to rebuild that which was lost.
The coalition may also be a pipe dream, but is the closest one can get to a win-win scenario. Hardened leaders like Assad and vengeful rebels will still want blood, but that rage can fall in later generations. The world must give them a simple message to prevent any other outcome: “If you don’t put aside your hate and work together, your people will vanish and your state will be remembered for its ruin.”