February 11, 2018
William Tecumseh Sherman would have been the best writer to fight in the civil war, were it not for the fact that his commanding officer, Ullysses S. Grant, was one of the best writers in American history. Sherman’s autobiography is a joyful, playful thing for a man who routinely ordered thousands to die, but much of his genius arrived via offhanded quotes recorded by others, or in his letters. One of those quotes is ascribed to an exchange with a Confederate sympathizer who upbraided Sherman for the damage done to the Mississippi valley during the Meridian campaign. Sherman is supposed to have said,
War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.
Which would certainly be news to Syrians. The Syrian civil war has now lasted half again as long as the American one, shows no sign of stopping soon, and has never for a moment suffered from a deficit of cruelty. Here at Radio Squid Jigger we had been towing the generally accepted line that 2017 had finally brought the war to some sort of inevitable cessation, if not a peace. Peace might be too much to ask for, but reducing the war from a conflagration to a brush fire seemed possible, even likely.
Most of that guess was based on the fact that there were some fairly clear winners. Russia, the Assad government, Iran, Kurdish fighters, and Hezbollah had done the gritty hard work on the battlefield to defeat ISIS, foreign salafists, and local rebels. Again, never with any lack of cruelty. Like many people, we at RSJ has assumed they would dictate the harsh, brutal terms victors often impose, and the violence would be put off a few generations as a matter to be revisted. Which seemed plenty awful enough, really, but it would appear even that may have been too sunny a hope for Syria.
A number of events point toward a remarshalling of the combatants. The Turkish invasion of Afrin was the start. Shortly after that came the abject failure of the Sochi conference to achieve any of its brazenly modest ambitions. Then the US fight on behalf of SDF forces near Deir ez-Zor last week. And finally the recent Israeli Air Force attack in Syria in response to a drone flown over the Golan Heights. All of those have in common that the parties starting the fight are deeply, profoundly disappointed at the current outcome. Turkey managed to create precisely what it didn’t want, a coordinated Kurdish statelet on its southern border. Isreal started the war gloating that Assad would be gone in a few weeks, and assumed a new US/Israeli proxy would be installed, choking off Hezbollah and diminishing Iran. The United States desperately wanted to stay the hell out of another trillion dollar middle eastern adventure.
Which makes it look like there is an American-Israeli-Turkish willingness to continue the fight, but mostly from afar and at the expense of Syrian lives and Syrian futures. All because of seismic American-Israeli-Turkish miscalculations. They are unhappy with who won, refuse taking on the fight themselves, so instead they will prod and poke at the war to keep it going. The fight in Syria will likely get even crueler, and there is no indication it will be ending soon. Sherman knew war, and he knew cruelty, but even he would have found this apalling.