General George S Patton famously remarked, ‘No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.’
Today as the war in Syria rages on, everyone seems to be confused as to how we got here and where we are going from here. Thousands of foreign Arab and non-Arab fighters fill the ranks of the terrorists now fighting the Syrian Army. Stories of blonde Europeans fighting abound, including shockingly a young Jewish teenager. Interestingly, most of the returning Saudis remark that they were misled on the ground and that the objectives given them to fight in the first place were incorrect.
One of the most galling reports relates to French objectives in Syria: the most gung ho European country demanding military intervention is France; but the French have lost their own senior intelligence operative to the terrorists the agent was sent to oppose. The foreign fighters pouring into both Syria and Iraq have spoken about their disillusionment as the aims of different rebel groups vary from opportunism to sheer capitalist gain from foreign government aid projects. Even the French policy over Syria has been a matter of score settling and political gain rather than a proper insight into the battle on the ground. The public defection of an intelligence agent to rebel groups further underscores the complete fragmentation on the frontlines.
As the battle for Kobane rages, the Syrian conflict has come full circle to what Bashar al Assad predicted - three years of the region in flames. Before ISIL caught the attention of western headlines, the Syrian Air Force was the first to strike out against them at least four months before western airstrikes. The Iraqi Prime Minister as far back as June publicly stated his gratitude for Syria coming to the aid of encircled Iraqis in the North and West of the country. This was at the same time that the Americans balked at the idea of delivering F-16s that Iraq had already paid for. The Air War had been raging in Iraq well before it caught the attention of the USAF and RAF.
Whether we look at Kobane, Sinjar or Abu Kamal, it was the Syrian military which threw its weight behind helping the Armenians in Der Azour. It must be now be clear to western defence chiefs that there is only one credible fighting force on the ground capable of fighting ISIL and that is the Syrian military. The Syrians have held all the aces up their sleeve; the Kurds, the Lebanese, the Iraqi tribes and indeed their own prisoners who were released in accordance with an amnesty granted by President Bashar al Assad. For good or bad, their strategy has worked.
The Syrian military perfected the art of fighting militias in Lebanon; indeed they invented insurgents within insurgents to drive the Israelis out of Lebanon. Whilst the Syrians shot at one Lebanese Maronite they smoked a cigar with another. Today, thanks to the Syrian military, Hezbollah is allied with two of the strongest Christian war lords in Lebanon. Whilst the American military ran ragged in Iraq over Sunni and Shia insurgencies, the Syrian Army and intelligence controlled both.
Whilst the west ignored the Iraqi Christians, Syria gave refuge to over half a million of them with subsidies, board and lodging. Whilst the region forgot about the Armenians, the Syrian Army built a memorial in Der Azour for those killed. Today when experts ask, “How did we get here?” one must remember written and oral history began in Syria. The Syrian Army remains the only capable, inclusive, multi-ethnic and religious force in the whole Arab world. It remains the most pluralist state in the region, and the late Oxford academic Patrick Seale was at pains to tell the decision-makers not to confuse Syria for Libya, Egypt or Iraq.
Today we see the unravelling of the whole region because of some euphoria around bringing democracy to a state and society where there has been coexistence for more than 4000 years, the seat of the world’s first settlements, the world’s first Synagogue and its first Church.