In 2006 the U.S. was at war in Iraq. Some of the enemy forces it very much struggled to fight against were coming in through Syria. The same year Israel lost a war against Hizbullah. Its armored forces were ambushed whenever they tried to push deeper into Lebanon while Hizbullah managed to continuously fire rockets against Israeli army position and cities. Hizbullah receives supply for its missile force from Syria and from Iran through Syria. Its long-term plans to attack Iran and to thereby keep supremacy in the Middle East depend on severing Hizbullah's supply routes. The sectarian Sunni Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, saw their Sunni brethren defeat in Iraq and a Shia government, supported by Iran, taking over the country. All these countries had reason to fight Syria. There were also economic reasons to subvert an independent Syria. A gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey was competing with one from Iran to Syria. Large finds of natural gas in the coastal waters of Israel and Lebanon make such finds in Syrian waters quite plausible.
In late 2006 the United States started to finance an external opposition to Syria's ruling Baath party. Those exiles were largely members of the Muslim Brotherhood which had been evicted from Syria after their bloody uprising against the Syrian state between 1976 and 1982 had failed. In 2007 a plan for regime change in Syria was agreed upon between the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The aim was to destroy the "resistance" alliance of Hizbullah, Syria and Iran:
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
By 2011 three years of drought, caused by global warming and Turkey's upstream dams and irrigation projects, had weakened the Syrian economy. Large parts of the poor rural population lost their means of living and moved into the cities. They provided the fertile ground needed to launch an uprising against the Syrian state.
The U.S. part in the plan was to provide the media and "global opinion" cover for the insurgency. To that purpose it used the tool from its "color revolution" tool box. "Citizen journalists" were recruited, trained and provided with the video and communication equipment needed for media propagandizing. Others were trained in organizing "peaceful civil demonstrations". The Saudis took care of the darker part of the plan. They financed and armed rebel groups, often related to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, which had the task to instigate a wider insurgency by taking on government forces as well as the peaceful demonstrators.A main part of the scheme was the introduction of a sectarian view that would split the largely secular Syria into several constituencies.
A local disturbance in Deraa near the Jordanian border was used to launch the uprising. Peaceful demonstration were held but soon shots were fired towards the police as well as towards the demonstrators. Inevitably both sides escalated. Groups armed by the Saudis target the government forces. Having colleagues killed and wounded the government forces retaliated against the demonstrators. Some of those took up arms themselves and fought the government. "Citizen journalist" propagandized the victims on the "peaceful demonstrators" side but never mentioned those on the government side. "Western" media agencies followed that scheme. Cells in other Syrian cities were activated. Again "peaceful demonstrations" were cover for "a third force", as the Arab League investigation commission named it, which fought against government forces and also instigated the demonstrators to take up arms. The U.S. government helped by issuing its own propaganda for example by lying about Syrian artillery deployment against demonstrators when, at that point, none had yet happened. U.S. para-government organizations, Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, joined the campaign against the Syrian government. Cyber attacks against the Syrian government news agency helped to suppress the other side of the story. Up to today the website of the official Syrian Arab News Agency, sana.sy, is purged from Google search results.
It was soon visible that the planned for "color revolution" strategy did not work. The Syrian state was more resilient than had been perceived. The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was more beloved and respected than the insurgency instigators ever expected. He also fulfilled many of the demands the serious protesters had. The constitution was rewritten, new parties were allowed, elections held and the most abusive security forces came under stricter control. The big cities, even though predominantly Sunni, did not support or join the increasing violent and sectarian fighters. Defections from the Syrian army and from political cadres were few and unimportant. For some time the Syrian economy held up quite well. The general population as well as the government rejected the scheme of a sectarian divide.
The enemies of Syria had to increase their commitment. Saudi Arabia and Qatar used all their capabilities to recruit foreign Jihadis willing to fight in Syria. The CIA, using Saudi money, brought in weapons and thousands of tons of ammunition from all over the world. Insurgency groups were provided with training and battlefield intelligence. A group of exiles was build up as external future government.
The Syrian government had to retreat to conserve its forces. Major parts of rural Syria were taken over by the insurgency. The population there fled over the boarders or into the cities. Where the insurgency foraged into parts of cities it was difficult to dislodge without creating immense damage to the infrastructure and buildings. But the Syrian government learned its lessons. With the help of its friends from Iran and Hizbullah its army units were retrained to fight against insurgency forces. Paramilitary units of locals were build up to take over those parts the army had cleaned of insurgents. Russia kept the supplies coming.
On the side of the insurgent instigators some things started to go wrong. The Jihadis Saudi Arabia provided were good fighters but ideologues that did not fit into the Syrian social context. They started to clash with the population as well as with local fighters. Just today a large fight is taking place in north-east Syria between Jihadi groups and local bandits. Arguments with al-Qaeda inspired forces over weapon supplies from Libya killed the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi. Despite being revamped at least three times the planned for government in exile group proved ineffective due to bickering and infighting between its sponsors. The "peaceful protesters" media campaign broke down as more and more stories and pictures from the massacres committed by the insurgency came to light. The population in those countries that supported the insurgency turned against any involvement in the conflict.
When it became likely that the insurgency might not be able to overcome the Syrian army U.S. president Obama introduced his "red line" over chemical weapon use. This was an invitation to the insurgency side to introduce chemical weapons to the battlefield, to then blame the Syrian government and to thereby create a U.S. intervention on their side. They tried to do so for a few times but Obama was then not yet willing to commit outright force. To prevent the upcoming Jihadis from taking over Syria should the Assad government fall, the U.S. planed to have U.S. trained "moderate" fighters take the lead in the fight especially in the capital Damascus.
In mid August 2013 a group of 300 CIA trained fighters entered Syria from Jordan. A second group followed soon after. (The Obama administration is now trying to change that date.) Their task was to go to Damascus and to take the fight to the Syrian government itself. They were obliterated on their way to Damascus' suburbs. Without U.S.air support, like it provided in Libya, further use of U.S. trained forces would have been useless. The "red-line" plan was activated. On August 21 some chemical stuff was released in some Damascus suburbs. Immediately an immense number of videos showing rows of alleged dead were uploaded to Youtube. But those videos did not show the right symptoms for a Sarin attack nor did they show the medical attention one would expect in the hours immediately following a real chemical weapon attack. It was clearly a false flag incident. But Obama tried to convince the world that the Syrian government had indeed used chemical weapons and released some flimsy claims of evidence but no evidence at all. He called on allies to join him for a military intervention.
The British parliament voted down a request from its government to join the war. The British population, like in the U.S., had no stomach for another lengthy war. Obama was in a catch 22 situation. He could go to war without asking Congress and would then face a possible impeachment from a very hostile House, or he could ask Congress for a vote for war. He soon climbed down from his "I'll wage this war" position and decided to go to Congress. The U.S. population was widely against another Middle East war as was the U.S. military. Pressured by their constituents and in view of unconvincing claims of evidence about the "massacre" Congress denied Obama its vote for war. In this Congress even defied AIPAC and the Israel lobby lost its first fight in over 22 years.
Obama has an urgent domestic agenda to implement. There is Obama-care, the budget and an upcoming fight over on the debt ceiling. Having lost in Congress Obama could not, solely on his assumed presidential powers, go to war. He would have risked an immediate impeachment process and a lame duck status for the rest of his presidency. What was he to do?
There the white Russian knight, Vladimir Putin, rode to Obama's rescue.
Putin offered a deal: Syria would agree to give up its unconventional weapons and the U.S. would agree for the Syrian government and president Assad to stay in power. The idea goes back to August 2012 when former Sen. Richard Lugar had proposed such a deal in Moscow.
Syria's chemical weapon are pretty useless on the tactical battlefield. But their potential use against Israeli population centers had proven to be a quite useful strategic deterrence. But now those weapons had become a liability. Instead of preventing an external war owning them was now threatening to invite one. At the same time Hizbullah's conventional missile force had already proven to be a good deterrent without the problems unconventional weapons carry with them. Syria can give away its current strategic deterrence and trust its allies in Iran and Russia to provide an equally effective replacement.
Obama took the rescue line Putin threw to him. He knew that openly entering the Syrian war against a well prepared opponent and its allies would mean a long and uncertain war. He was in a lose-lose situation but could now come out of it and look like a winner. He rescues Israel from the threat of a gas attack and cashes in on a win from his peace-prized hobby horse - WMD-disarmament.
Today the foreign ministers of the Russian Federation and the United States agreed on a Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons. It will require, if possible, the elimination of all of Syria's chemical weapons by mid 2014. The agreement does not say anything about the future of the Assad government. But Russia will have made sure that guarantees were given and received. Syria would not give up these weapons without such a deal. Russia as well as Syria know that Obama must keep face and they will not talk about the silent backroom deal that was made earlier today in Geneva. They behave like Nikita Khrushchev who kept silent over his agreement with Kennedy about the removal of U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey after the Cuba missile crisis. Besides those guarantees any fulfillment of the disarmament, which may take a bit longer than today agreed upon, depends on the survival of the Syrian government. Taking down Assad is for now out of question.
Obama will now, slowly, reduce support for the Syrian insurgency. He will press Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to do likewise. As faster Syria agrees and moves to eliminate its chemical weapons as faster will Obama retreat from the war. U.S. media will soon turn to the budget fight and the NSA spying affair as the major news themes and the U.S. public will forget about Syria.
The Syrian opposition does not like the deal and does not want it to succeed. The Syrian Military Council will do its best to derail it. But it will soon be out of political support and out of money. Meanwhile the local SMC forces are fighting al-Qaeda aligned groups. It could well be that some of the local Syrian insurgency groups will soon join government forces in attacking the Jihadis. General Selim Idris may find some low level bureaucratic job in Dubai or Qatar.
The Saudi king hates al-Qaeda ideologues just as much as he hates the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sasanids. He will agree to stop the war and will crack down on its financiers. Prince Bandar, who's responsibility was the recruiting the insurgent fighters, has (again) screwed up his job by not keeping them under control. He may be sent back into the desert. The Gulf states will (have to) follow the Saudi example.
In Israel Netanyahoo knows that he lost this fight. AIPAC's defeat in Congress tells him that. While this round against the resistance was indecisive, a lot of Syria has been destroyed and its strategic arms have for now been dismantled. Netanyahoo will agree to the U.S. plan of winding down the war but will demand some undeserved "compensation". He always does and Obama always gives to him.
The Turkish premier Erdogan will try to continue to support the insurgency in Syria. He is the only statesman who does so for ideological reasons. A true believer. But he also has lots of problems with his other neighbors and the external credit driven Turkish economy is on the verge of falling into a deep hole. Some hints from Russia and Iran that this winter might bring some technical difficulties with Turkey's gas supplies may be enough to make him finally throw in the towel. There are also some people within his own party, especially the Anatolian businessmen, who no longer agree with his rule. They may use his political weakness to bring some one else to the fore.
Out of support and out of any chance to ever win the fight the Syrian part of the insurgency will likely stop fighting and try to come to some clemency agreement with the government. The foreign al-Qaeda parts will continue the fight. But they have little ideological base in the Syrian population and have no chance against a full fledged mechanized army. There will be a clamp down against their financial backers. For some time their terrorism will continue though. The U.S. may soon help Syria with intelligence or drones to fight them down.
Russia is the clear strategic winner of the war on Syria. It is back as a power in the Middle East and has laid the base to stay there for quite some time. It has won major points in the global public opinion. Gazprom will be happy to help Syria with exploring and retrieving its coastal gas reserves. That will pay for Syria's reconstruction and rearmament. Gazprom may also buy gas from the Iran-Syria pipeline, sell it to Europe and strengthen its monopoly there.
Iran has reinforced its strategic role and is now well positioned for negotiations of a deal with the United States that could end the 30 years of hot and cold hostilities. It has spent quite a bit on Syria and will spend more to help rebuilding it but the strategic result, a win for the "axis of resistance", is well worth that price.
Syria and Syrians have won the war and lost a lot. It will take years to reintegrate the refugees, to rebuild and to let the wounds and deep rifts heal. Syria has also regained its independence. In 2014 Bashar al-Assad will likely be reelected as president of the Syrian Arab Republic and Syria's history will remember him as a gracious ruler and as a hero.
The people of the United States have, for the first time in decades, stopped a war that their president wanted to pursue. That is a huge victory and a precedence. They should remember it well when the next manufactured war on this or that small country comes up. They have the power to stop it.