Where do you stand on the conflict in Syria? This question has become perhaps the ultimate political and sectarian Rorschach test of our time.
Are you a leftist or libertarian who opposes U.S. air strikes and waxes lyrical about the paramountcy of Syrian sovereignty and international law? Or are you a very mainstream liberal or conservative who backs military action to remove the Syrian dictator from power — or, at least, to protect his people from barrel bombs and chemical attacks?
Are you a Shia Muslim who supports Assad against genocidal Salafist rebels backed by Sunni-led Saudi Arabia? Or a Sunni Muslim who supports the rebels against a genocidal Alawite regime backed by Shia-led Iran?
Every side has its own self-serving narrative; its own set of “alternative” facts. Every side engages in selective outrage: last week, backers of Assad were decrying the massacre of more than 120 people at the hands of a suicide bomber; the week before that, opponents of Assad were denouncing the gruesome killing, with poison gas, of at least 74 people in a rebel-held town.
Dead Syrians have became political props, cynically used to bolster this or that stance on the conflict. Myths and lies abound. Defenders of Assad on the far left and far right claim he is a secular bulwark against ISIS while omitting to mention that this supposedly secular dictator was helping funnel “jihadists” into Iraq, to attack U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians, less than a decade ago. They also ignore the fact that the vast majority of civilian casualties in Syria have been caused by the Assad regime, not by ISIS or by the rebels.
Both liberal and conservative opponents of Assad, meanwhile, tend to minimize the well-documented war crimes and other grotesque atrocities committed by U.S.-backed rebel groups, not to mention the dominance of Al Qaeda and its affiliates within the Syrian opposition. Many of them falsely claim that the West has “stood by” and “done nothing” to support that opposition — despite the CIA, according to the Washington Post, “spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel” who went through the agency’s training program, and despite the fact that arming and funding Syria’s rebels, both “secular” and “Islamist,” has helped exacerbate this horrific conflict and render a diplomatic solution near impossible.