How ISIS Leveraged the Syrian Civil War

How ISIS got involved with the Syrian civil war is a sordid story that is all too familiar for Arab nations undergoing revolution. The struggle of regime power and the confidence of aggravated youth has had varying outcomes for these countries. Many remain entrenched in a battle of ideals with no decisive victory in sight. This is seen most clearly today in the state of Syria, which is currently tearing itself apart from the inside out as we speak.

Like most multi-national conflicts, the situation in Syria is dynamic and troubling. The black and white, two dimensional world of morality we like to cram global conflicts into has become more useless than ever. This situation must be understood from all sides in order to recognize the extent of the quagmire.

On one hand there is a regime, in a pseudo-powerful position, attempting to bring back Syria to a stable situation. This stable situation, of course, would still mean the current regime remains in power. This has been deemed a non-option for Syrian rebels and thus does not seem like a likely outcome.

The rebels have strong irreconcilable points of opposition against Assad’s regime. This is understandable seeing as his regime is responsible for bombing civilians with chemical weapons, mass censorship, and more. However, the rebels have struggled to topple the Syrian government, leaving the country embattled and weak. Their own questionable tactics (which also include intentional civilian casualties – namely against Christians and minorities) have left them without significant traction.

These are the circumstances that ISIS has leveraged in order gain a strong foothold in Syria. While heinous and denounced by many global powers, many people have actually praised the Islamic State for being less corrupt than the existing regime and rebel militia groups. This triangle of power has left world powers scratching their heads in what the BBC calls, “a war within a war”. Meanwhile civilians remain trapped amidst the chaos.

This paper examines the depth of these issues in an attempt to explain why a remedy is still forthcoming. Too often we arrogantly place blame without surveying the body of offenders. The Syrian Civil war is not simple and not dissimilar to most global conflicts. When every party is at fault how can any side be supported without significant repercussions? The final paragraphs of my paper discuss this in more detail below. 


“It is no secret that Syrians (and Iraqis) are currently stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are trapped between their ruling dictators or Islamic extremists, neither of which are particularly benevolent. President Assad has been criticized for allowing ISIS to create a stronghold in Syria in order to bolster support from the West. In the event of Assad’s demise a logical assertion would conclude that IS, being the next most powerful entity, would fill the power vacuum. ‘ISIS’s power will only be enhanced in Syria by Assad’s continued hold on power…yet fears that a freewheeling regime collapse would give way to warlordism and terror across Syria are justified. For now, Syria offers a grim lesson: Muddled U.S. policies can produce as disastrous an outcome as military intervention’.
Uprisings in Syria have lead to what has been popularized as a ‘Jihadi Spring’. Military involvement against IS has not had the effect the U.S. had hoped for. ‘In fact, there are widespread concerns that the assaults may actually enhance the appeal of the ISIS, with new recruits, Arab and Western, seeing it as a beleaguered Islamic force under wanton attack from the West.’ The Islamic State continues to gain traction as the narrative of modern Syria becomes increasingly difficult to dissect. Meanwhile civilians, unsure of where to turn for safety are fleeing their homes; seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Europe is now seeing the culmination of a promise made in early 2015, ‘to flood Europe with…migrants’ made by none other, than the Islamic State.”

The Islamic State recognizes this paradox more than most nations and uses it to their advantage. This paired with the indifference they have towards established national laws, borders, and cultural taboos has made them cancerous and appealing. ISIS gives individuals, trapped in the whirlwind of greater conflict, an outlet for misunderstood aggression.

From 10,000 kilometers away it’s easy for Americans to catch the broader view of what is happening in the Middle East from CNN and Fox news, but the devil is indeed in the details. Understanding the situation both ways (macro and micro) is necessary in making sure that we too do not find ourselves in a similar situation.

3 thoughts on “How ISIS Leveraged the Syrian Civil War

  1. Daniel Rosica

    I like how you presented your evidence in the paper that you wrote. From the final paragraphs that you choose to post were very interesting, and explained you point. I also find the fact that ISIS is able to gain the support and funds that it needs to remain is terrifying.

  2. Casey Green

    It sounds like a good paper. Its often hard to try and analyze conflicts like this because there are so many pieces to the puzzle. I spent much of my semester talking about these issues in both my Yemen and Arab Spring course, and how Yemen currently has a very similar situation occuring that is so complicated it seems impossible to find a place to start.

  3. Andrew Beain

    “The black and white, two dimensional world of morality we like to cram global conflicts into has become more useless than ever.” This is such a good summary of the Syrian conflict, as well as the various other regional conflicts in the Middle East, and it really caught my eye the first time I read this abstract. This sounds like a paper that does an excellent job of capturing the complexity of the Syrian civil war and the implications of a civil war in an already trouble region of the world. One of the more interesting points made is an unattributed quote that points out the difficult of fixing problems that arise after US military intervention. “Muddled US Policies” that result in the invasion, destruction of homes, and loss of life draw many Arabs, particularly young people, to extremist groups. This reaction is unsurprising. The stunning display of tribalism that the region shows is met with US military involvement that is perceived to pose a direct threat to the end of Arabic independence. This threat is something that elicits a response of violence from many people; violence only seeds violence.
    This abstract also brings up important points about the rise of ISIS in Syria and speaks to a larger attitude about revolutions. Due to of the weakened state of the nation after long periods of revolution between the Assad regime and rebels, the attitudes towards ISIS are undoubtedly changed. The perception has changed to the point where ISIS is viewed by some as a more legitimate governor than either the regime or rebels. This probably seems very backwards to the west, which is far removed from the conflict, but after months of brutal conflict any sort of relief probably seems preferable to humanitarian crisis and uncertainty. It also speaks to an age-old trope about revolutions. One minute you’re the leading revolutionary and the next you’re a counterrevolutionary. This seems to be the case in Syria, where the rebels from the 2011 Arab spring seem has been passed by the Islamic State, despite fighting for different reasons.
    Information about the Syrian conflict without a doubt is applicable to the sorts of problems that the Yemini people are facing, especially when it comes to the perceptions of extremist militant groups in a time of crisis. Many of the conditions of the Syrian conflict mirror that of Yemini. Most striking of the similarities is the multi-front nature of this conflict and how that muddies the conflict. With pro-regime, internationally supported anti-regime and extremist forces all duking it out in a horrible multi-front war. Additionally, the civilian response seems to be similar. While Yeminis aren’t leaving the country the hordes that the Syrians are (they can’t afford to do so, and have nowhere to go) the attitude seems to be similar. A large slice of both populations want nothing to do with this war, or just want it to be over.


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