There were always two bad guys in Syria, ever since the Assad family took over the Ba’ath Party and created a military dictatorship in 1970. Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria until he died in 2000. He ruled with an iron fist, but by what Jeanne Kirkpatrick would have defined as an “authoritarian” regime in terms of his relationship with the people. He let them make the money, and he took his cut. But if they asked for more political power and freedom he put them in jail or killed them.
But in terms of marketing, in this period Syria was known to the American people as a sponsor of terrorism, aimed at the State of Israel. So they were bad guys.
But there was another bad guy in Syria, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, which you know now, but didn’t back in the 1980s. You see, the Syrian ruling party was largely secular, the Assad family coming from a small Shia sect, the Alawis, ruling over a nation of Sunnis. (In Iraq Saddam Hussein had the reverse, a secular Sunni ruling over a nation largely made up of Shi’ites.) In both cases we had the not-very-religious versus the very, very religious who wanted to institute sharia law.
The Muslim Brotherhood you all know from Egypt, but they also represented fundamentalist Islam in Syria, and were centered around Aleppo, Homs and a city called Hama. We know much more about MB now than we did then, but when a regional civil war flared up in 1982, while Reagan was in office, Assad is said to have shelled the city of Hama to the point of killing around 10,000 (estimates running from 3,000 to 25,000).
Reagan’s foreign policy team then decided to refrain from involving themselves in this war for the simple reason they did not want to get in between two bad guys, one they knew, the other unknown. But they knew enough about the MB to assume that a secular authoritarian regime was probably more benign than a government based on a strict fundamentalist ideology. Events since 2009 have borne that out.
The latest civil war in Syria flared up in 2010, with the same parties as 1983, Assad regime versus Muslim Brotherhood. This civil war was just one unintended result of the Arab Spring initiative launched by the Obama State Department in 2009. Part of its fallout would be that a third bad actor would emerge on the scene in 2013. ISIS is a spitting-image of the Muslim Brotherhood in its zeal for a strict religious theocracy, only more brutal and ruthless in its management practices. And their territorial intentions are not the same.
In Syria all three bad guys are bunched up together, so that both American politicians and the interested public have a difficult time telling the bad guys from the worse and worst guys without a scorecard. So guess who’s taking the beating by the American and international media?
This convergence of bad guys has been of some benefit to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Samantha Powers, and probably even John McCain, who inadvertently had his picture taken over there with an al Qaeda leader, because it is complicated and hard to follow (like rugby) and not of great interest except to a very few Americans who hate murder by indifference.
History will also likely lay at the feet of Barack Obama the rise of ISIS, in part because of the void created in Iraq because of his withdrawal of American troops there several years ago. And if links between Google and Facebook and Arab Spring can be established, then the Benghazi tragedy will be laid even more solidly at Hillary’s feet.
But since 2012-13, there has no longer been any mention in the media or government communiques, or from John McCain, concerning “the Muslim Brotherhood”, but rather “rebel forces”, at one time differentiated by “bad rebel forces” involving the Al Qaeda, and “moderate rebel forces” ostensibly referring to the Muslim Brotherhood.
This has been profitable to the administration in reporting the killings in Aleppo, inasmuch as Assad and his “government forces” are portrayed as the only “killer” in the area. Not true.
Obama will also be remembered as the man who invited/allowed Russia back into the eastern Mediterranean, since their reopening to their navy base and airfields in Syria after an absence going back to the fall of the USSR in 1991.
Today: Enter Turkey and Recip Erdogan, president of Turkey, who is also Muslim Brotherhood. Think of Mohammed Morsi of Egypt, ISIS in a business suit.
Yesterday, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara while making a speech at a gallery exhibit. The entire episode can be seen on-line. The shooter was a young Turkish police officer, shouting “Allah Akbar” and warning Russia that what’s happening in Aleppo (a Muslim Brotherhood city in Syria) will also happen to them.
But since Erdogan and the Turkish government is also Brotherhood, the Russians will not look upon this act as a lone wolf attack.
Everything has changed. A new bad actor has entered the fray.
But from where the sun now stands, there are three (3) bad actors in Syria, and Bashar al-Assad, as he was in 2010 when this all began, is still the most benign of the bad parties in Syria.