A curiosity that appeared across the internet and newspapers last week was the news that a ten-year-long game of Civilisation II had been played by an internet user by the alias of ‘Lycerius.’ Civilisation, a game that has the player guide a nation through all of human history, had in this case turned up a dystopian outcome by the simulated year 3991 AD. Three superpowers, it turned out, were locked in a 1,700-year-long nuclear war, constantly escalating to break a murderous stalemate – but failing.
Though clearly on a far less apocalyptic scale, the Syrian crisis is starting to show the signs of such a bloody stalemate. For instance, with the Syrian regime making extensive use of armoured vehicles to overpower lightly-armed rebels, mid-May saw the emergence of US/Gulf Cooperation Council plans to provide the opposition with anti-tank weaponry. Conceivably in response to the suddenly more lethal rebel fighters, the regime deployed attack helicopters and warplanes to central Syria weeks later, as shown by US State Department satellite imagery. On 17 June alone, StratFor reported several deaths nationwide in another clear illustration of open civil war.
…the Alawite minority has enjoyed political domination for generations.
The bloody process of stalemate and escalation ought to be self-evident in this brief snapshot. Each side turns to new means of undermining the enemy, but none as yet have proven decisive.
What, then, is to be done about this deadlock? Some particularly naïve commentators advance the view that we should simply consider “what the Syrian people want”: in other words, incipient imperialism is at the root of the conflict; if foreign powers stepped back, the killing would pass. This, however, betrays an amateurish lack of understanding of regional history. Not only did the Assad clan already commit similar atrocities against Syria’s Sunni majority in 1982, the Alawite minority has enjoyed political domination for generations. In the collectivistic culture of the Middle East, this will leave no small impact; the downtrodden Sunni population suffering another round of massacres will doubtless want overdue revenge. For their part, the Alawites will certainly fear the consequences of their past and fight all the harder to stave them off.
Britain might not be as powerful as a century ago…
Thus, glibly muttering the equivalent of “can’t we all just get along”, is clearly misguided. Rather, we need to look at the crisis with reason and an eye to strategy. Though strategy is a now oft-overlooked notion, it gives us critical perspective. That is, we stand to gain something from the downfall of Bashar Al-Assad. As a staunch ally of Iran; host to Hamas terrorist headquarters; a dictatorial state with a violently anti-Semitic history, the Syrian Arab Republic clearly runs counter to our interests. If it were to fall, we would score a double victory of neutralising a dangerous dictatorship while containing Iranian power. Britain might not be as powerful as a century ago, but it must still seize every opportunity to safeguard its interests and population.
This is precisely what we find today – and potentially at little cost to ourselves. Through Syria’s resilient rebels we have the means, and further support might yet tip the balance in their favour, helping them grind down Assad’s thugs through attrition if nothing else. With Tehran already committed to propping up its ally, the gauntlet has been long since thrown down for us to respond. If Assad falls, the Iranian theocracy will find its pride blunted and strategic freedom brutally cut down. What might replace the present Syrian government is not assured to be perfect, of course, but it would be a damn sight better than the status quo.