A Cold War In The Middle East?

by Chas Danner and Patrick Appel

Jon Lee Anderson examines the international implications of the Syrian conflict:

[I]t’s clear enough that whatever it was before, Syria’s conflict is being fought along sectarian lines. The same holds true for the widening regional links being formed. Just as the Shiite-led Islamic Republic of Iran, and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, are among Assad’s closest and most steadfast allies, the Sunni Muslim states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are the main backers of the Syrian rebels. There is, of course, a geostrategic dimension to this as well: behind the Shiites stand Russia and China; behind the Sunnis stand the United States.

He believes that "post-Syria, we may well be speaking openly about a new Cold War, with the international battle lines drawn roughly as they are today around Syria, and with new proxy conflicts yet to come." As part of a larger look at the current state of the Arab Spring, Marc Lynch likewise fears "the regional effects of Syria's relentless shift from political uprising to externally-backed armed insurgency and sectarian rhetoric":

Like Iraq in the previous decade, Syria is increasingly the battleground for regional proxy war, the breeding ground for regional sectarianism and jihadist extremism, and a potent cautionary tale for autocrats seeking to frighten their discontented populations against further revolts.  The Syrian war overshadows almost all other issues in today's Arab media, driving out many of the political and social and intellectual issues brought to the fore by the early days of the Arab uprisings.  The idea that things would be better in Syria now had the United States intervened militarily is a fanciful one — more likely, such an intervention would only have destroyed hopes for a political solution more quickly, accelerated the violence, and now found American forces caught in the quagmire. The Obama administration has been wise to resist pressures to intervene militarily in Syria, and I fear that its emerging moves to support the insurgency, which it likely sees as now politically necessary even if unlikely to actually produce desirable outcomes, will come back to haunt it in the coming years.  But the reality is that there are now no good options.