WASHINGTON, DC – Syria’s civil war has become a wretchedly complicated problem. As the parties prepare to meet in Geneva for the second round of United Nations-sponsored peace talks, the government has launched vicious barrel-bomb attacks on Aleppo and other cities; more moderate Islamist rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, are openly at war with Al Qaeda affiliates; and Al Qaeda-linked groups are now fighting among themselves.
Meanwhile, the war’s spillover effects are worsening. The fighting has heightened instability in the region; US and European citizens are streaming into Syria to take up jihad; and there is a growing consensus that the post-World War I Middle East boundaries are coming undone. Indeed, the viability of Syria, a multi-ethnic state, is being threatened by multiple armed groups supported by external sponsors – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, the United States, Turkey, France, and many private donors – who themselves have conflicting aims.