Back during the Iran-Iraq War we viewed Saddam Hussein as the lesser evil. This time around our Saddam is still a Sunni pitted against a Shiite in a new version of the conflict taking place in Syria.
The Iraq War realigned it to the Shiite axis making this a properly regional conflict.
The Iran-Iraq War inflicted bloody losses on Iran. It’s possible that this current conflict will as well.
The Islamic Republic’s headlong intervention in Syria is akin to Nazi Germany’s surge of military forces into the Battle of Stalingrad in the fall of 1942 – an operationally competent, strategic blunder of epic proportions.
To be sure, the influx of thousands of foreign (mostly non-Iranian) Shiite fighters into Syria in recent months has enabled pro-regime forces to regain some ground in the Damascus suburbs and a belt of territory linking the capital to Homs and the coast. The town of Qusayr, critical to both rebel and regime supply lines into Lebanon, fell on June 5.
That’s a shame, but the Iranian surge won’t prevent the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab rebels from eventually prevailing on the battlefield. Sunni Arabs have a 5-to-1 demographic edge over the minority Alawites who comprise most uniformed and paramilitary pro-regime combatants, and a 2-to-1 advantage over all of Syria’s ethno-sectarian minorities combined. The rebels are strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims worldwide who are Sunnis, and their four principal sponsors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan – have a GDP well over twice that of Iran. Russia continues to do business with the regime, but it won’t intervene decisively enough to change the math.
Like the vaunted German Wehrmacht in the Stalingrad kessel, Iran’s expeditionary forces have been thrown into a tactical military environment for which they are woefully unprepared. Although Hezbollah wrote the book on guerrilla warfare against conventional militaries, it has little experience fighting battle-hardened insurgents on unfamiliar terrain – and it shows. At least 141 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the span of just one month fighting in the battle for Qusayr, many of them elite commandos who cannot easily be replaced.
Demographics alone are not all that important. Saddam was able to hold down and rule a majority Shiite country and Bahrain pushed back its own Shiite Arab Spring. Turkey has successfully repressed the Kurds and Alevis.
It comes down to who will be able to continue dumping angry young men into the conflict the longest. And that may be about more than demographics.
The Sunni Jihadist camp may be somewhat larger in theory, but it is also fighting on many fronts from Afghanistan to Mali to Israel to India to the United States. It only has so many people to spare for Syria. The Shiites are largely concentrating on Syria because of Iran’s dominance in the Shiite world.
The Syrian Civil War is likely to end more like Hama than Stalingrad. The Assad clan has survived challenges before and the Sunni rebels are losing. And unlike Russians, Muslims don’t tend to fight to the bitter end nearly as much. Instead they run away to fight another day.
The Iran-Iraq War was unique in some ways but it had two dominant tyrants on both sides pushing men into the meat grinder. This time around there are only clumsy coalitions dominated by politicians who want someone else to do the fighting and dying.
That’s why the Turks, Qataris and Saudis have dragged in the United States.