Syria is ‘run’ by the Al-Assad family. It has been for many years. The Assad’s are member of the Alawite sect of Shia Islam.
Long story short, pretty soon after Islam was founded, Shia and Sunnis split. And they hate each other in the way that only former friends can.
Regional balance of power up until 2003, Iran was the only majority Shia country on the planet. Every other Muslim country was either A Sunni Majority or Had a Sunni ruler in place. This was the cause of the civil war in Iraq, Saddam had been Sunni, but the country was majority Shia.
Syria is a majority Sunni country, BUT, the ruling group (Asad’s) are Shia. There is also a sizeable Christain minority. Iran and Syria are close, as they are both Shia governed countries. But Syria, as mentioned, is different to Iran in that Shia are the minority.
Arab Spring in early 2011, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, protesting against corruption and the difficulty in seeking out a subsistence, set himself on fire, and with him, went the whole region on fire.
Morroco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Eygpt, Yemen and Syria all saw significant protests against the ruling parties (Countries where living was not as difficult/the ruling party was popular/ countries were better governed saw some protests, but generally, concessions were made and agreements were reached). They all ended differently.
Morocco and Algeria saw the Monarchs making promises/reprimanding the government, promised increased freedoms. This combined with the better local living conditions saw the protests peer out. Bahrain put down their protests with no aversion to violence. The West kept relatively quiet about this. Tunisia, Yemen and Eygpt saw their governments overthrown.
Only in Libya and Syria did it go to an all out civil war. In Libya, Gadaffi was already unpopular with the West for his state-sponsorship of terrorism. Assad had generally flown under the radar, but people didn’t like him as he was close to Iran (for reasons mentioned earlier).
What Russia And Syria Learnt From Libya?
Gadaffi, already a cartoon villain in the west, went out ‘guns blazing’ against the protester-come-rebels. Uprisings in various cities (Bengahzi etc) were being put down. Libya’s limited Air Force was proving a decisive factor both Militarily and Psychologically. Before long, it was clear to the rebels that victory, without air assets would be costly and expensive. To drive this point home, Gadaffi’s air assets were hitting civilian and military targets as if to suggest that there was nothing they could do to resist him.
The UN Secuirty Counsel, as a result of air assets being used in civilians, passed a resolution enforcing a no-fly-zone over Libya.
(Note about the UNSC. It is 15 members, but the 5 that count are the 5 victorious powers from WWII, Russia, China, USA, UK and France. They all have a ‘Veto’ ie, if something is proposed for the UNSC to do, any 1 of these 5 can veto it, and it is dead, no matter the opinion of the other 14 members. In practice this means convincing Russia and China to let the resolutions that US/Uk/’the west’ want to go through, to be allowed to pass.)
The idea being that Libyan air planes would no longer be free to bomb civilians. However, at the risk of using inflamatory terminology, China and Russia were upset at how ‘Protection of Civilians’ turned into ‘UK/US providing air support to Rebels to oust Gaddafi’. The Wests air support sung the tide of battle and Tripoli fell to the Rebels weeks later. Gaddafi was found in a ditch and shot. Government of 40+ years over. Democracy? We’ll see.
Russia: ‘Fool Me Once, Shame On You’
This left just one country in a state of flux. Syria. Already unpopular with the West due to it’s ‘closeness’ to Iran, Syria’s unpopularity deepened when the Government refused to make democratic reform (objectionable to ‘Western Countries’) and started cracking down on/torturing pro-democracy supporters (really objectionable to ‘Western Countries’).
Russia was much more attached to Syria. It’s closer geographically, culturally, economically. Russia liked the Government in Syria, and frankly, Russia isn’t too fussed if you are heavy-handed with protestors. But most importantly. Russia only Port in the Mediterranean Sea is in Syria. If it loses that, no russian warships could be in the Mediterranean except as Turkey or UK/Spain permit.
So, for economic, cultural and religious reasons. SYRIA IS NOT SO MUCH IMPORTANT TO THE WEST, AS IT IS IMPORTANT TO RUSSIA AND IRAN. AND THE LOSS OF THE ASSAD GOVERNMENT IN SYRIA WOULD REPRESENT A BLOW TO RUSSIA AND IRAN. ALSO, ALL THE TORTURE AND REPRESSION BY ASSAD MAKES THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT VERY UNPOPULAR IN THE WEST.
So when Western Governments came to the UNSC and said ‘We must do for Syria what we did for Libya’, the Russians and Chinese shut that down. No way. Not going to happen. Without a UNSC mandate to intervene, any action would be in breach of international law.
Which brings us too…
‘Western’ Democratic Values
The West likes to support people who will be democratic and follow international laws. To this end, Obama has stated that the use of Chemical weapons in Syria would represent a ‘red line’ which would trigger NATO intervention, regardless of UNSC approval. Fact is, if you are going to break with international law and invade a country, you need a damn good excuse. Chemical weapons are such an excuse.
Fair or not, Western Countries are seen as protectors world-wide. When the Genocide in Rwanda happened, it was condemned as a War Crime. But who was responsible for sitting back and doing nothing? US, Canada, UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Holland, Spain ‘Western Countries’. No-one blamed the Chinese or Russians for their failure to act.
Casting themselves in this role, it is these countries that people look to for support against dictators.
Changing Nature OF The Rebellion The rebels, when originally formed, were seen in a almost universally positive light, defectors from a corrupt regime, and brave freedom fighters looking to overthrow a dictator.
As time went on, and as more and more focus was placed on the rebels, Western Governments grew suspicious that these were not/were no longer brave freedom fighters, but Al Qaeda/ Taliban/ Anti-West fighters, who were interesting in using the fluid state of Syria to win the rebellion and set up a hardline Muslim country.
Where does that leave us ?
Time and again the West calls for democratic reform. And will support rebels with this goal. The West finds the repression of protests, along with the torture of protesters and the use of chemical weapons particularly objectionable. This, and Syria’s relationship to Iran, and Russia, particularly the projection of Russian sea power, has meant that the west sees Syria as a Government, which if it were to fall, would not be missed. Knowing that UNSC approval for military intervention would be impossible, President Obama stated that UNSC approval or no, we’d go and take out the Syrians if Chemical weapons were used.
Chemicals weapons have been used, but we can not confirm by whom.
So we wait, and we watch. Russia has made it obvious that it will stand by Syria. Whether that means actual military actions against US and other western nations should they try to intervene in Syria, it’s not clear. Also the problem of after-math rears its ugly head. Since the ‘Red line’ comment, there are more and more indicators, that the Rebels might not just be freedom fights, but Islamists and others, who would establish a Islamic state.
It is important to note, that this would be a Sunnni Islamic state, as most of these fighters come from Sunni countries. And if there was a Sunni Islamic state, you can be fairly sure that teh Shia minority would have a torrid time, after the events of the past few weeks. A genocide could be possible. And stopping that sort of shit is why the West wanted to go in to Syria in the first place. Annoyingly, it could be that Assad would be the least brutal ruler of Syria.
The Fact is, who is running Syria and why we should be involved is not as important to us as it is to other Countries. Russia and Iran both, for different reasons, like the Syrian Government and want it to stay in Power. Saudi Arabia, USA’s close ally, dislike Syria, for mainly religious reasons, and want them gone. And finally, Western Governments find their approach to the pro-democracy protests as well as the use of chemical weapons an unacceptable way for a government to behave.
The West doesn’t like them, the West regional allies don’t like them. And they support the West Geo-political opponents.
If you want to thank for this great explanation: Thank this guy from Reddit