We are engaged in a new Cold War. Tom Walkom writes:
In the West, the old Cold War was portrayed as a battle between Communist dictatorship and capitalist freedom. Given that Russia has now embraced capitalism, those categories are no longer quite so neat.As a result, the new Cold War is a little vaguer. It is portrayed as a battle between thuggery and the rule of law — brutality versus niceness.In this scenario, the U.S. and its allies are said to be the nice ones. Russia, personified in its president, Vladimir Putin, is said to represent brutality.
Calculated brutality is not a new tactic. It's as old as Sherman's March to the Sea:
Students of the American Civil War will recall Gen. William T. Sherman’s march to the sea through Georgia in 1864, during which his Union army burned crops, slaughtered livestock and laid waste to the Confederate countryside.As Sherman said at the time, his aim was to make “a hostile people … old and young, rich and poor feel the hard hand of war.”
As a tactic, sometimes it works. It worked for Sherman. Sometimes it doesn't. Carpet bombing Vietnam didn't work. But we miss the point unless we understand what is behind the sound and fury:
The real reason for Russia’s increasing involvement seems to be that Moscow now sees Assad as the only political figure able to keep Syria from falling into chaos.Syria is not far from Russia’s Caucasus, a region with its own Islamic insurgencies.More to the point, the chaos in Libya that followed Western military intervention there — as well as the civil strife in Iraq after Washington’s removal of Saddam Hussein — have served as a reminder: Getting rid of dictators can sometimes make things worse.From time to time, the U.S. has understood this. That’s why, after a brief fling with the reformers of Egypt’s Arab Spring, President Barack Obama threw his support to the coup plotters who now run that country’s brutal military regime.But for Obama, Assad has been a step too far. Perhaps his brutality is too blatant. Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi merely executes his political opponents. He doesn’t barrel-bomb them.
It's hard to predict where and when it will all end. Both sides have huge arsenals -- enough to leave Syria completely in ruins.