Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Five lessons from Syria

Five lessons can be learnt from the Syrian war since its outbreak in 2011.

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015. (AFP / Bulent Kilic)

First, might is right. The UN is a sham. Russia swallows Ukrainian Crimea without blinking. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad gets away with a chemical massacre. Hezbollah remains armed in violation of UNSC resolutions 1559 and 1701, and refuses to hand over five operatives indicted by a UN tribunal with the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.


In such a lawless world, countering the ISIS message becomes impossible. No matter how much President Obama spends on anti-ISIS propaganda, injustice will guarantee ISIS an endless stream of recruits.


Terrorists are not born as such. They are mostly peaceful people who feel the urge to speak up against injustices that they may encounter. As long as dictators like Assad, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin suppress freedom of expression, violent organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS will keep offering tools for kids to channel their anger. Such dynamic was true on 9/11, and is still true today, even after the war in Iraq killed discussion on nation-building.


Second, either America is the most hated country on earth or it gives undue credence to an unethical world.


World activists circulate petitions and join rallies demanding that former US President George Bush and senior members of his administration be put on trial for the Iraq war. Yet, none of these activists seem zealous to see Putin — who has flattened Chechnya, parts of Georgia, Ukraine and now Syria — be held accountable. None of the world’s “more ethical than thou” activists take to the streets to protest the war of Syria’s dictator on his people, the same way they protested America’s war on Iraq’s dictator.


The world thinks America should be tried, but offers dictators like Putin, Assad and the Iranian regime diplomacy, treaties and political settlements.


Third, despite two exhaustive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American power has not weakened, only its leadership has.


In May 2014, President Obama boasted about his genius plan of partnering with local governments, like in Iraq and Yemen, in the war on terror. A month later, American-trained Iraqi security forces melted down in Mosul, handing the city over to ISIS. In September 2014, the Yemeni government — America’s partner — had to flee the Houthi invasion of the capital Sanaa.


Putin has spoken little about his partnership with Assad, but in reality has helped the Syrian dictator in reversing his losses. Why do Putin and Assad win in Syria while America and its partners lose in Iraq and Yemen?


Unlike Obama, Putin is competent. While Obama has been like a pundit who got all his predictions wrong, Putin has been like the leader who backs his words with power, even mediocre power like Russia’s.


Fourth, regular armies can win asymmetric wars. After America’s wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia’s war in Afghanistan and Israel’s wars in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, regular armies seemed unable to beat non-state actors.


Yet in Syria, Russia showed that armies can beat militias, provided that armies use immense and indiscriminate firepower, and that that the attacking government shuns and bullies whoever thinks of supporting the militias.


Now we know that America was not too weak to beat al-Qaeda in Iraq, but rather too careful. America was also lenient on regional powers that armed, trained and funded Iraqi insurgents, often deploying mid-ranking officials to capitals like Damascus to beg Assad to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but to no avail. 


Fifth, Sykes-Picot Sykes-Shmicot. The world order, and its map after WWII are not engraved in stone. The Kurds look close to carving their independent state on the debris of Iraq and Syria. Similarly, Assad has been carving an Alawite-Shiite state out of Lebanon and West Syria, while transferring the Sunni population to the east.


If the Kurds and Assad are shaping their states, why does Israel have to settle for its 1948 UN border? Israel can bomb Palestinians in the West Bank and transfer them eastward, then annex the West Bank like it did the Golan Heights in 1981. If Putin can pocket Crimea and the Kurds can cleanse northeast Syria, then why can’t Israelis pocket the Golan Heights and cleanse the West Bank? After all, none of the European capitals, which regularly threaten to arrest Israeli officials, voice similar antagonism against Russian, Iranian or Assad officials.


The world is changing. Might is right and the world order is no more. This, Obama calls “change we can believe in.”


Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015. (AFP / Bulent Kilic)

Terrorists are not born as such. They are mostly peaceful people who feel the urge to speak up against injustices that they may encounter.

  • Orm Anders

    2011-2012. US+KSA+Qatar start supplying Syrian anti-government militants with weapons and wages. The world is rather happy. 2014. Putin starts supplying Ukrainian anti-government militants with weapons. The world is angry as hell. Seems legit.

    February 9, 2016

  • WVD

    Sad because your head chopping plundering friends from the Salafist underworld are loosing? Enjoy your loses, I won't shed a tear and even have a good drink the moment these scums are joining their 72 Virgins. Give my regards to the royals in the Gulf.

    February 9, 2016

  • manjarola

    Israel dont whant another war. Israel dont will atack first. If Nashalla atack Israel, because Iran order him, and he is a persian slave, Israel must do like Putin do Syria, whit 50x more power than 2.006, and wil be the last war against Lebanon. The same in Gaza.

    February 8, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Indeed, the world is changing. This is the first time you do not mention Saudi Arabia with your habitual smarmy, oily, obsequious praise, not even once in your adolescent dirge of discovering the sad Darwinian facts of life. And that is progress. You are learning your lessons.

    February 8, 2016