As what once looked like an inevitable march to war in Syria stays on hold longer, it seems the United States’ public has put to use the lessons learned from the debacle in Iraq. And one of the most important lessons was the reality that we can’t predict what the future will bring no matter how sure we think we are about it.
One of the biggest reasons for this unpredictability is the various groups found in these countries and the infighting that occurs after changes in power, a residual effect of their borders being created by colonialism. Iraq is no exception and the violence there continues as we saw over the weekend.
And it’s possible the outcome of a power switch in Syria might be even more unpredictable than Iraq. The CSM illustrated this in a recent article that attempted to estimate the number of fighters in various groups fighting against the Assad regime:
Jihadists – 10-12,000
Hardline Islamists – 30,000
Ikhwani Islamists – 30-40,000
Genuine moderates – 20-25,000
Kurds – 10,000
…statements that so-called “moderates” dominate the fight against Mr. Assad, as both US Secretary of State John Kerry and influential politicians like Senator John McCain have asserted, are not accurate.
The path ahead is very murky in Syria and that could very well be one of the reasons Americans are so reluctant to support military action against Assad, a clear change from the lead-up to the Iraq War as most polls illustrate. A look at old data from Pew show 72% believed Iraq was the “right decision” in March of 2003 when the war began. A look at their data on Syria show 63% of Americans oppose airstrikes.
Obviously, we can’t say this is the only reason for the change as many factors will play a role in each situation. But the reality that one of these groups would eventually take power and then be tasked with holding onto it peacefully in a post-Assad Syria should be a concern when judging this issue. It would be foolish to think a magic wand could be waved and things would work out just perfectly, particularly when you consider the groups are already fighting each other at times instead of the Assad regime.
The situation in Syria is messy but Western intervention will likely only make matters worse in the long run.