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Ted Rall's explanation of the situation actually bespeaks a common Western misconception of how wars work in the Middle East. "Two sides" is such an amusingly simple concept.

Each ethnic or religious group is, effectively, its own side, with shifting alliances. There are also multiple rebel organizations which unify various such groups, some of which are also supported by various other governments, like Iran. Each has their own agenda. Many of these agendas include genocide, if they can get away with it. Many other agendas include establishing a dictatorship, in any number of terrifying flavors. 

There are people whose agenda includes such things as "surviving" and "raising one's family" and "living a normal life," but in the earlier stages of a civil war such people are generally not taking sides so much as running for cover and/or becoming refugees. (There are later stages in a war where everyone is grabbing weapons, but this is more typical of the African style of civil warfare rather than the Middle Eastern)

And the special joy of this is, it's easy to start your own side! Simply come in with an agenda that's either contrary to all of theirs, or with an agenda of making sure that none of these bastards win, and that the area just stays in a long-term mess. This was a favorite strategy of many countries in the Iran-Iraq war.

Ain't politics grand?
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Gary Walker's profile photoMatt Hoffman's profile photoYonatan Zunger's profile photoDmitriy Bykov's profile photo
32 comments
 
By next Sunday, there could be 22.  Or it may have gone down to 15...
 
The real problem here is that it's not Assad we'll be killing.  If we were actually going to drop a bomb on Assad, I'd be all for it.
 
And the cynic in me suspects that we're actually not unhappy with a fragile balance between the most powerful factions.
 
Would love to know what exactly they think they can bomb, that will make it better for the people on the ground. 'Strategic' air strikes are notorious for collateral damage.
 
+Rachel Blum Thank you..I have been saying for a while that all of the big powers, U.S, Russia and China would be just fine with this thing going for another ten years, wipe out an entire generation of radicals
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+Yonatan Zunger  or with an agenda of making sure that none of these bastards win

Why does that sound like the recent strategy of our major political parties?
 
+Kristin Milton if the regime currently owns all the planes, airstrips seem to be reasonable targets - should be possible to severely limit the effectiveness of one-sided air power with cruise missiles alone. Because they don't risk pilots, cruise missiles can be targeted at all sorts of high-value (and therefore heavily defended) military infrastructure or force concentrations; these options aren't as directly helpful as close air support in a key battle or strikes against forward positions, but they should be feasible with fairly minimal collateral damage risk.

As many have pointed out, there doesn't seem to be a strong US interest in any of the factions winning, so we can limit strikes to driving home the point that "WMD == you will get punished" by causing meaningful damage, and if it doesn't really help the rebels win, we probably don't care much, especially if we avoid collateral damage that adds fuel to various extremist fires. Our goals here are different from those in countries where we have boots on the ground and/or are interested in a particular outcome, and that should make it easier to act relatively safely.
 
A little logic problem is that if it would continue for a generation, we would have a generation of those who are skilled to kill only in the area. This is why Russia do not want to engage fighting. All those guys have been participating in clashes in Daghestan not long ago.
 
+D. Hale not only did this immediately come to mind, but I thought it was a nice pop-culture way of emphasizing the long history (I mean... you know... it's right there in a classic Monty Python bit and everything).
 
Seems a bit like interventions in Afghanistan as revolution in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia all suffer from this problem. It is possible to get the old regime removed, but what comes then is a continues struggle for dominance of the various "sides". Just do some fighting in Syria might not do the trick, there needed to be reliable commitments of all the forces, about what afterwards.
 
Given local environment, the agreement is impossible.

Interestingly, Israel-Syria borders were more or less calm since 1973. So Israel does not desire the replacement of the previous regime. Simiralry in Egypt. 

I do not understand why USA wants the replacement. Only China would win from the long confrontation. 
 
+Dmitriy Bykov that is what I fear, but then whatever can we expect to happen, after Assad is gone? What will be best for the people in Syria. This seems to be a tough problem, maybe an interesting challenge? I have no clue, but on the other hand I cannot see how adding more violence being the solution? Maybe helping the refugees is best we can do.
 
Air attacks are meaningless in Syria and would not remove Assad, IMHO. Land operations by Turkey's hands would be required, which means Kurds, neutral so far, would take a side in a conflict. 

Think of what Russian response to the US air strikes would be. Many options, say, to devastate opposition forces in Syria with the same air bombing intensity as US attacks government forces.

All of this means that the planned operations is useless, would escalate conflict and bring more blood (as usual when US interferes).

The only option is a full scale intervention, would means even more resistance inside the US, even Syria's neighbours will pay the cost, not American taxpayers.

Thinking of the future after Assad is as to (Russian saying) "Sell ​​the bear's skin before one has caught the bear".
 
+Dmitriy Bykov but thinking not about the future after bombing, has thrown several countries, namely Irak and Afghanistan, at least 40 years back in their development as a society, well maybe back in medieval ages in some places. Major problem is the time wasted with loud and simple arguments, instead of thinking about the situation as a whole.
 
I think there's one thing that Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq all agree on. They want Syrian refugees to stay inside Syria and out of their hair. It's going to take some sort of bizarre 12-dimensional political math to meet that goal though. 

That's the sort of political complexity that U.S. citizens are very uncomfortable with. 
 
Oh ,why bother when you can just play war games or poker on your mobile phone. :)
 
It makes me very sad that civilians (including kids) are being attacked with Sarin gas.

I don't have an answer and I'm ignorant about Syria (and the complexities of the situation), but surely something can be done to dissuade this type of action from becoming a regular occurrence.
 
+Sarah Slack makes me sad too, probably makes sad the most of us. But punishing someone, without being entirely sure, that he was guilty, is not a good idea. Not on any scale of human lifeform.
 
That is the odd thing about this civil war, there isn't just 2 sides there are 4.
 
+Sarah Slack I think "surely something can be done" is what many people are feeling, but it may be just wishful thinking. Not everything bad that happens in the world can be stopped.
 
+Clayton Reeves 4 sides? There are more like 5 or more within the country, not counting foreign countries with interest ..
 
+Grace Monte de Ramos "The good side" is a myth borne out of too many Westerns with villains wearing black hats. There are sides, with interests; the expectation that any one of them will be straightforwardly heroic, or even not a bunch of utter bastards, will always be frustrated.
 
At the start, there might have been a continuum that ranged from "most inclined towards democratic practice" all the way to " most likely to be dictatorial" but the way things are now, it looks like the devil's own mess. If the US is to intervene militarily, perhaps it should go all the way. Or else just leave the Syrians to their own devices. Or maybe the Saudis should do it, they have enough arms from the US.
Obviously there are no solutions. +Yonatan Zunger 
 
Two options only: 1. Stay away 2. Full scale international military presence (on every corner) to stop any form of violance (and it should not be Holland forces, decided to leave when it were unsafe, it will be very unsafe). Everything in the middle would just escalate violance.
 
'Side' is rather too planar a term to apply here:  one of the few guarantees of politics in the Middle East is that all sides will intersect as frequently as possible along the edge of the most mutually-distant vertices whenever possible. There isn't anything but matters of degree here.

+John Poteet wrote:
"That's the sort of political complexity that U.S. citizens are very uncomfortable with. "

..and the sort of political complexity that US citizens are comfortable with is...?  I've not known most US citizens to be at ease with political complexity of any kind, ever.

Yonatan wrote:
"...There are later stages in a war where everyone is grabbing weapons, but this is more typical of the African style of civil warfare rather than the Middle Eastern..."

Exactly this. A large part of what has particularly burdened my spirit about recent events is this change of character in the region's usual style of conflict. 
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