It’s time to accept that the Syrian Arab Republic established in 1946 is no more. In its place totter small regions with constantly fluctuating communal and geographical boundaries. Within those temporary enclaves, some leaders attempt to maintain or expand influence by force and ideology; others try to do so by bringing safety, food, shelter, and fuel to people caught up in havoc. Rebels of disparate religious, political, and ethnic shades—some backed by Saudi and Gulf Arab money, others inspired by nationalistic ideologies—shuffle the conflagration and the persons caught up in it back and forth as they fight to the bitter end against the Syrian army and militias like Hezbollah, who are buttressed by Iranian and Russian resources. Yet all sides are losing, for stability is gone in Syria and from there instability is rippling outward.
Anybody with eyes and the willingness to look could see this coming. Here’s what I wrote last year concerning a book I read in the last last century:
Although the same nations still officially exist along the crescent from Marrakech to Baghdad, those borders mean less than they once did. The place we still call Syria might soon devolve into more political entities than are now extant in the entire region. Not too far away, Somalia is already three places, one of which is barely a place. Neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea went their separate ways in the ’90s, but still haven’t been able to figure out who gets the house and who gets the kids. Sudan is now Sudan and South Sudan — and yet the fighting over the new border hasn’t stopped. West Africa was never as tidy as it appears on the map, and is getting messier all the time.
It’s true the Black Africa and Arab Africa are special cases, with borders drawn decades ago by outsiders, with zero acknowledgement of “facts on the ground.” But now that these centrifugal forces have been set loose, they’re becoming more and more difficult to control.
IS/Caliphate is one of the results of those centrifugal forces. Whether it can survive the chaos it feeds on and also helps create remains to be seen.