The End of Syria (And All the Rest)

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ISIL is moving on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city:

The surprise assault, launched over the weekend, opened a new front in the multi-pronged war being waged by the extremist group across Iraq and Syria, and it underscored the Islamic State’s capacity to catch its enemies off guard.

The push — which came on the heels of the miltants’ capture of the Syrian city of Palmyra and the western Iraqi city of Ramadi late last month — took them within reach of the strategically vital town of Azaz on the Turkish border.

The offensive reinforces the impression that the Islamic State is regaining momentum despite more than eight months of U.S. led-airstrikes.


It’s only been 11 days since ISIL took Palmyra (Tadmur), which has seen its population rise significantly during the Civil War thanks to its status as something of a safe haven for refugees. It’s safe to say that status ends wherever ISIL rule begins.

Take Aleppo out of Syrian hands, and Syria as we knew it is finished. Assad will hang on to the Alawite coastal region, and maybe the Lebanon and Israel border zone — but that’s it. Damascus alone won’t have the manpower or the legitimacy to win anything back.

Which isn’t to say ISIL wins. The interior of What Once Was Syria (WOWS) seems likelier to remain a permanent battle zone than calm down as the geographical basis for a new and stable Caliphate.

Which isn’t to say that ISIL loses, because the group thrives on exactly the kind of chaos it’s so expert at creating.

As I wrote almost exactly one year ago today:

And it’s not so much that the nation states of the Arab world are badly drawn, it’s that the nation-state and Arab Islam aren’t a good combination. Maybe you like Islam, and maybe you like strong nation-states. Maybe you like scotch, and maybe you like marshmallows — but you wouldn’t necessarily want to combine the two.

The future of the Greater Middle East might be far more stable as a loose confederation or affiliation of city-states, looking towards a new state centered around Mecca-Medina as its titular head. The vast hinterlands might be left to the own, cruel and primitive devices, with the city-states conducting the occasional pacifying raid, but otherwise using the time-honored tradition of buying off the tribes, or playing them off one another. That’s pretty much how Muammar Gaddafi ran Libya for decades, and it took the giant upset of the Arab Spring (and Western airpower) to ruin it.


As horrific as the events are in Syria and Iraq, we may be witnessing nothing more than the Arab world’s devolution into a more organic, pre-Westphalian order.

Egypt will likely hold together — Morocco and Tunisia, too. Maybe Algeria. But we’re already seeing cracks in Saudi Arabia, and if that goes, so goes all of Arabia and whatever is left of Iraq and Syria.

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