Russia's military intervention in Syria is not just about supporting a tyrant by the name of Bashar Al-Assad to do their bidding in the Middle East. The Russians are playing a dangerous game of shaping it into a holy war for Christians in the Middle East and between Christians and Muslims worldwide. With such a scenario or even the perception of one, then extremists in the Middle East respond by calling for a jihad to defend Muslims in the region, which will spiral down to more protracted wars.
The decisions on Syria by the U.S. and Western powers have set up failures and disasters. The situation has only gotten worse, with no end in sight for a resolution to the conflict.
The war of words is bringing about a religious war that will not die out in a matter of weeks or years but decades if not a century. Russia's Orthodox Church stated the following: "The active position of our country has always been connected with protection of the weak and oppressed, like the Middle East Christians who are now experiencing a real genocide. Any fight against terrorism is moral; we can even call it a holy fight." Syrian opposition member, Bassam Jaara responded: "The Orthodox Church's call for a holy war in Syria warrants a declaration of jihad. The Orthodox Church described Putin's battle in Syria as 'holy', meaning a crusade war... A 'holy' war requires a call for jihad."
So there you have it. Congratulations to those who wanted a religious war in the Middle East. Now it's up to the rest of us to extinguish the fires of religious confrontation. The problem is that the US is now cornered. It wants to deal with ISIS before dealing with Al-Assad. Russia stepped in on cue to fight ISIS but has actually fought all the opposition to Al-Assad. The US needs to reestablish the goal in Syria as a tandem--to counter both ISIS and Al-Assad simultaneously.
Without a clear strategy now on Syria, the US is giving in to the new paradigm established by Russia. What do we expect? We expect more militancy and violent extremist groups like ISIS rising from the ashes of Syria. In order to reach a political solution, Al-Assad has to understand that we are serious in protecting our interest and the Syrian people has to see that we are serious in protecting them. Safe zones, or no fly zones, in the north and the south with the help of our allies Turkey and Jordan can accomplish our goals.
We expect more refugees who will be turned back by the West to face their death chambers in Syria or the slow death of dealing with terrain between Syria and safe havens. We expect more anti-Muslim rhetoric in the West and anti-Western sentiment in the Middle East. We expect the interests of the US to be shelved--Middle East peace, nuclear non-proliferation, stable oil producing economies--all will be secondary to the apocalyptic war surfacing before our very eyes.
If the US leads a serious global effort to end the conflict in Syria now, however, and both tyrants and terrorists are marginalized, then there is hope. It's better to deal with it now than wait to deal with this growing problem later.
It requires the counseling of Syrian American groups with the Administration to chart a course for a dual effort in Syria. Russia's strategic blunder must be exposed and their role should be converted to helping with the transition of power, not maintaining the status quo. There is no other choice.