Are you ready for World War 5?

Days after it was reported that Lebanese authorities are barring entry to Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria, The Guardian tells us of the sudden flight of Syria's "well-heeled elite" into Lebanon—predictably meeting no interference from authorities. With nearly 2 million already in refuge beyond Syria's borders according to the UNHCR (up from 1.4 million just four months ago), and hundreds of  thousands more internally displaced, many facing hunger and harsh conditions for well over a year now, it is almost satisfying to see the pain get passed around to the regime's favored lackeys. But the threat of US air-strikes which has sparked this exclusive exodus also looms over Syria's commoners—as we saw in Libya, "smart bombs" and "surgical" targeting still have a habit of wiping out civilians. And yes, there is something utterly perverse about the world sitting and watching, arms folded, as Syria escalates to genocide—as in Darfur. But the threat is very real that US intervention will internationalize the conflict, and set off a regional or even global conflagration...

Ironically, it is Ben Swann, in a commentary comparing Google searches this week for Syria and Miley Cyrus (guess who came out way ahead?), who spells out the worst-case scenario: 

The world is now positioning itself for what could possibly be the beginning of the next world war. France, Great Britain and the USA are now aligning against China, Syria, Russia and Iran. With such massive military force beginning to mobilize dependent upon the supposed use of chemical weapons one would assume that the peak search value for chemical attacks in Syria would skyrocket. On August 25th the peak search value for chemical attacks in Syria actually fell to a value of 3, which is down from a value of 4 only 24 hours earlier. The term "Syria" is valued at 56—averaging flat over the past few days...

We've noted that figures on the radical left and neocon right alike have been calling the global conflict that has unfolded since 9-11 World War 4. Right-wing Zionist commentator Shoshana Bryen, writing for the Jewish Policy Center in May, calls it the "The Fourth Great War," and identifies Syria as the flashpoint for its potential escalation. To her credit, she understands what so few on either the right or left are capable of grasping: that the principal concern of al-Qaeda and its jihadist franchies like Syria's Nusra Front is the struggle within Islam, and only secondarily the jihad against the West. It is the fearful synergy of regional sectarian war and Great Power rivalries that holds the menace of a new world war. As we've noted, neocons and Zionists, ultimately more afraid of the jihad than dictaors like Assad who had been semi-domesticated in any case, are divided on whether to give Assad a shove or prop him up as the Devil they know. This ambivalence is reflected in Bryen's warning:

[W]ith shades of the Cold War, as Russia supports the Syrian regime, the U.S. has moved closer and closer to military involvement. Our first choice was to outsource the funding, arms and training of rebels to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who chose, naturally enough, expansionist Sunni groups hoping to push Iranian-supported Shiites out of power. American arms are intended to end up with the Free Syrian Army, but according to David Ignatius "Islamist fighters…have formed the backbone of the Free Syrian Army for nearly two years. The Syrian opposition is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, and the Islamists (especially al-Nusra's recruits) have been among the best fighters."
The clear implication is that regardless of what they say to the U.S. to win our support, their long-term aims may be incompatible with ours... If American policy in Syria seems feckless, it is because it is feckless.
The President initially tried to "win" Assad to the West by sending envoys and lifting parts of the embargo. But Assad was not "won," and when he turned his army on his people, the President, apparently trying to satisfy American sensibilities with rhetoric, demanded that he step down. Assad did not step down and rebel bands struck back, which did not displease the President... The discovery that some rebels have serious jihadist tendencies offended American sensibilities, so the U.S. declined to "arm the rebels." That refusal apparently satisfied American public opinion, which leans heavily against any involvement in Syria; but the grossness of the slaughter, particularly the use of chemicals, did offend American sensibilities. The President's sliding "red line" on the use of chemical weapons offended some parties and satisfied others. Claiming to find "moderate, secular rebels" will satisfy some, but the admitted interconnectedness of the rebels—and the fact that the Islamists are far and away the best fighters—will continue to worry others.
The administration's policy on Syria has been a series of visceral reactions... Without a definition of America's strategic interests, such as a defeat for both Iran and the Sunni jihadists, the chance remains that America might be dragged into another front in the Fourth Great War. A war in which neither side is our friend.

How tellingly ironic that like many voices on the "left," Bryen essentially dismisses secular and progressive ("moderate") elements in the Syrian opposition as irrelevant if not non-existent. Well, now US intervention seems imminent. Sectarian strife has already spilled over into Lebanon and Egypt, and the even that in Bahrain is related to the Syrian crisis. Iran is already said to have elite Revolutionary Guard troops in Syria, backing up the regime. And while China is a distant second to Russia as Assad's patron and protector outside the Islamic world, Washington's New Cold War with Beijing points to the possibility of a Pacific theater in the portending conflict. As in 1914, ethno-sectarian tensions in one region of the world (then the Balkans) could send planetary alliances colliding to catastrophe...

Which raises an interesting question. In the post-9-11 Global War on Terrorism, the US has been poised against al-Qaeda and its jihadist franchises and satellites, ostensibly allied in this effort with nearly every government on Earth. Certainly, Russia and China were willing to play along, finding common cause over Chechnya and Xinjiang. Now, the US may be intervening against a regime that is fighting jihadist rebels (as well as secular ones), and a new "traditional" conflict between rival imperial powers may be opening.

So is what is coming next merely "another front in the Fourth Great War"? Or are we poised at the brink of World War 5?

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