Since the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising of 2011, the United States and a network of European and regional Sunni allies have applied instruments of coercion against Syria that collectively take on the character of ‘hybrid warfare’.
In this conflict, Washington and its alliance partners have undertaken a wide range of lethal and non-lethal covert operations, with heavy reliance placed upon those performed by regional Sunni allies. By empowering jihadis as proxies, President Obama has borrowed much from the Reagan administration’s Afghan playbook. As he signaled the launch of this campaign in August 2011, President Obama served notice that the United States would be “pressuring President Assad to step aside”. But one year later, a Defence Intelligence Agency report revealed a hitherto unacknowledged sectarian war goal: the establishment of a “declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria”. It geo-political function would be to break the Shiite crescent. As of today, this hybrid war has produced not just one, but a conglomeration of religiously cleansed Sunni Islamist principalities in northern and eastern Syria. Some are controlled by the Islamic State and al-Qaida, while others are dominated by so-called moderate armies and militias. Among the latter are Washington-backed jihadist formations, such as Jaish al-Fateh and Jaish al-Islam. In all of these principalities, social pluralism has been replaced by Sunni supremacism, impacting not only religious minorities, but also non-Islamist, secular Sunni Muslims. This presentation will demonstrate the relationship between the dynamics of Washington’s hybrid war in Syria and the process of religious cleansing and the dismantling of state structures that support social pluralism.