Disclaimer: In the interest of analysis, this article sidesteps the horrible plight of the flesh-and-blood people of the region. The problem is akin to the surgeon, forced to operate on a a loved one, or a lawyer providing services to an unsympathetic client entitled to counsel. These situations share a necessity, to temporarily put aside emotion for the sake of rationality. At the end of the writing, and the reading, we can restore out sentiments, and resume our concern for humanity.
Several assertions about Syria/Iraq/terrorism have become part of western conventional wisdom:
- The continuation of the Syria conflict will result in continued export of terrorism.
- The collapse of ISIS will result in increased export of terrorism.
- An equitable, representative government in Syria is one condition of the solution.
- A unified Iraq is the other condition of the solution.
- When the conditions are met, terrorism will abate.
The argument is powered by the assertion that atrocities local to the Levant power terrorism globally. The assertion stems from how people are thought to react when oppressed and worse.
If this thesis is not flawed, it is at least worthy of a Hegelian “counter-thesis”. The core of it seems to rely more on western sentiment than hard logic. Imagine several parties, thinly disguised by letters, each with their own advocacy:
- Party W, the most socially and morally advanced on the planet, forever tries to spread the love.
- Party R, a ruthless and practical sort, practices a form of “realpolitik”, with concern mainly about the health and welfare of relatives, rather than humanity in general.
- Party T believes in and practices murder and mayhem.
- Party M is the salt of the earth, from which all the other parties attempt to recruit.
The purpose of these slight abstractions is to distance ourselves from conventional wisdom, which does not slap-fit mere letters of the alphabet. Now the assertion is almost an equation:
R oppresses–> M–implies–>T recruits–>
M–>implies more–>T–>attacks on W
The “equation” may be just a writer’s trick, but it lays bare a specific weakness of logic. ISIL spans two countries, with differing backgrounds of conflict. The Assad regime, with violence from the start, has a significant responsibility in the genesis of ISIL. In Iraq, former officers of the Saddam regime have a similar role. The Iraqi background was much less violent, the disaffection of the dispossessed. Yet even though the backgrounds are different, regions spanning two countries became the territory of ISIL.
If a conflict has a single cause, it may sometimes be reasonable to assert that removal of the cause will resolve it. In our hearts, we would like to believe that the people of the region can live in such a state of happiness that recruitment to terror would be rare. But with ISIL, it is not obvious that resolving the original causes of conflict will reduce the threat of terrorism to the west.
Physics distinguishes between reversible processes, and irreversible. History is irreversible. The removal of the cause does not result in return to the past. So, as part of the Hegelian counter-thesis, let’s propose a future more likely to occur than a recurrence of the past:
- The Assad regime, with Russian air power, achieves nominal control of the inhabited areas.
- The Gulf states flood the region with MANPADs and other advanced weapons. The cost of Russian air support escalates.
- The Assad/rebel conflict assumes more of the character of a proxy war than it already has.
- The Iranians commit, hoping to blaze a path all the way to the Mediterranean.
- With military success, Assad’s army holds more territory with thinner forces. It becomes more vulnerable. Edit: This hazard has just been demonstrated by the ISIL recapture of Palmyra.
- Terrorism in the west diminishes, because local targets are more accessible.
- Over the coming decade, Alawite Syria succumbs to population pressure.
- The Iranians get tired.
- Perhaps seven years from now, a quasi political transition occurs.
If I were a Russian, I would know that a unified Syria is unrealistic, with instability rivaling a trans-uranium element. This would be my secret goal: for all the combatants, except the Russian air force, to get very tired, too tired to bother Russia.