05/15/2013 04:27 pm ET

The Widening Gyre in Syria

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The war in Syria continues, with irrational violence on all sides. Yet the war in Syria is part of a broader geopolitical trend. Beyond the internal parties to the conflict, regional and global players with different nuances and shades of policy and self-interest make this more than a civil war; it has become an increasingly widening world war, if still only by proxy and still only fought on Syrian soil.
Old accounts are being settled, and new ones forming and coming due. Historical ethnic and sectarian divisions, regional disputes and interests, as well as the two different approaches of two different and opposed international geopolitical forces underlie the Syrian "civil war," become now a battle to the death: a nation and its people on the path to total pulverization.

The legacy of World War I and the Sykes-Picot Agreement have faded away; the colonialist center no longer holds. The fragmentation of Syria could see the entire region crumble, with the rise of extremism everywhere. The twin bombings in the Turkish border down of Reyhanli, with hundred people arrested and accusations flying back and forth between Turkey and Syria, only serve to emphasize the fragility of the situation and the risks that the civil war could easily inflame the entire region. Meanwhile...

The best lack all conviction...

...or at least, influence: in the search for a negotiated solution, the international community appears impotent. Despite the extended mandate of Lakhdar Ebrahimi, the UN's diplomatic mediation is increasingly obscured by the fog of war. Nevertheless, there seems no viable alternative to diplomacy and a political solution, since militarily neither side can prevail definitively. Continuation of the war only favors leaderless extremist groups or individuals linked or aligned with al Qaeda, perpetuating insecurity for all parties. Already Jibhat al-Nusra has declared itself "part of al-Qaeda" and similar groups thrive and take more power. A Chechen extremist fighting his jihad in Syria declares: "Our goal is to establish Shariah law, God willing ... We have 30 years of history in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq; our goals are the same."

These groups are even putting their hands on international aid intended for the exhausted population. According to the April 4 edition of the Lebanese newspaper as-Safir, King Abdullah told president Obama during his visit to Jordan, "I am not willing to transform the Jordanian border into a platform for launching a war against Syria, as the situation is on the Turkish-Syrian border." Abdullah smells the new-Ottoman temptation of Turkey and sees the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and politicized Salafis with jihadist beliefs in the region, including within the borders of his own country. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have made a joint effort to achieve some kind of an agreement to end this bloodshed by calling for a ceasefire and urgent, international talks before the end of this month. "The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos," Kerry declared in Moscow on May 7: "The alternative is that the humanitarian crisis will grow. The alternative is that there may be even a break-up of Syria." To avoid a break-up of Syria and to save lives, negotiations are needed; but in the meantime all parties should immediately suspend sending weapons into Syria.

Secularist Syrians together with Alawites, Christians, Shia, Ismaili, Druze, moderate Sunni and Kurds constitute a de facto coalition which, with the regime's army of 295,000 soldiers, powerful security structures and over 300,000 reservists, probably make up at least half of the Syrian electorate, a "majority of minorities." Afraid of being wiped out by Sunni Jihadi-style extremists in the event of an Assad departure, they constitute a shield around the regime. Meanwhile, the legitimate opposition is increasingly subsumed into the various sectarian extremist groups. The remaining proponents of democracy within the Syrian opposition, over time, are growing weaker and weaker.

... While the worst are full of passionate intensity

The Syrian war is no longer a battle for democracy: The democratic aspects of Syria's revolution have been long-since hijacked body and soul by the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadi extremists. Continual war reinforces the radicals, as it usually does; but instead of searching for a mediated accord, regional and global players consider only how to supply more and more weapons, forgetting that the Syrian people need more peace, not more weaponry.

The fact of the matter is: Putting more arms on the Syrian battlefield only invites more tragedy. Making the situation even more complicated, Israel has now intervened. For Israel, the Golan Heights loom again as a war front, because they are open again to Palestinian and Lebanese guerrilla groups. So tensions increase along Israel's border with Syria, which for 40 years had been the quietest of the Jewish state's frontiers.

Informed analysts and experts acknowledge that all the countries of the region face a significant risk of becoming directly involved in the war. Fully a quarter of the Turkish population is Alawite and feels close ties to the Syrian Alawites, who are allied with the current power in Syria, while the official Turkish government position is in opposition to the Assad regime. Meanwhile, as noted above, the Jibha Nusrah extremists have already joined with al-Qaeda in northern Iraq.

Things fall apart

We now also have evidence of the chemical poison Sarin gas being deployed -- by the rebels, according to the UN investigator, but others accuse the Assad regime. In either case, it begs the question of whether chemical weapons will be used on a larger scale, or fall into the hands of Al Qaeda. Lebanese and Jordanian societies are already feeling the effects of the war in Syria, are already engaged and involved. Then, there is always the Kurdish problem in the region, in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria itself...

Extremists are flooding into Syria from the world's radical swamps -- mostly from Arab countries, but also Chechens, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Uzbeks and many others, including Europeans. One day, they will return to their countries of origin, and will constitute a very serious problem. In many European countries, officials are already considering the dangers posed by returning Syrian war veterans.

Will the falcon hear the falconer?

Most reality-based politicians and diplomats know that the Syrian conflict has no military solution. The possible -- nay, probable - collapse of the current governing coalition could only change the geography of the conflict. Minorities, with or without Bashar al-Assad, will continue to fight in the future, perhaps from new enclaves which could be formed. Excepting the al Qaeda-linked extremists, who do not want any negotiations, all parties to the conflict claim to want some kind of diplomatic process, but that the preconditions are making it impossible.
Considering the historical weight of Iran throughout the region, with its ties to so many minorities, any negotiations, any chance for entente between the U.S. and Iran, would be of great help also for Syria. The regional powers (Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) along with the global powers (the U.S., the Russia-China axis, and Europe) all have an interest in this, and also responsibilities. They should work to overcome the preconditions of the warring factions and reinforce Lakhdar Ebrahimi's UN led diplomacy under the original roadmap laid out by former Secretary General Kofi Annan and elucidated in the June 2012 Geneva protocol. This communiqué calls for a "Syrian-led political process leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people." To pave the way for the transition process, the communiqué demands an "end to armed violence by both sides, the release of political prisoners, freedom of movement throughout the country to journalists," and the "consolidation of full calm and stability." This ethos continues to infuse and sustain Ebrahimi's diplomacy.

At this point, what is needed is a Geneva 2 meeting to seek a general ceasefire that would enable the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government with authority to hold general elections under the aegis of the UN, and with specific guarantees for the security of all minorities: This is the only path forward toward an inclusive new State of Syria.