It is a case of smoke and mirrors indeed in relation to the conflict in Syria. What is going on? And what is going to happen?
The so-called rebels are the militarised Sunni groups who are supported and funded by the US and Saudi Arabia through Turkey. The Russians are on the side of Assad, as they have been since the beginning of the conflict. This is why the UN and the EU have been reluctant to go in full hog because they know that behind the scenes Putin is a powerful player. We also know that Turkey is bombing the Kurds in Syria (the PYD) because they are close to the Turkish border and they have powerful alliances with the PKK. We also know that the Turks are bombing Kurds in the PKK in Turkey, too.
Turkey has a complicated position here. Originally, it wanted Assad to resolve matters peacefully by stepping down and then holding elections, which would potentially result in a Sunni leadership, helping Erdogan in his quest for a friendly Sunni neighbour. The US policy is to fund the so-called rebels, train them and prepare them, but these so-called rebels are now isolated as they are being attacked by Russia on one side and Assad on the other, and now devoid of military resources such as anti-aircraft weaponry. The US approach in the region has somewhat failed because Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia are not playing ball.
The year 2016 will be the worst year for the displacement of Syrians into Turkey and through it into the EU. The top brass all know this and this is why they are playing politics with the idea of closing borders, trying to keep the refugees in Turkey, or even working towards a political solution in Syria itself. While politicians talk politics, as always it is the people on the ground who suffer.
The other considerable worry is what happens when there some kind of end to this problem in Syria. As all the foremost powers back off, what will be left behind? If history is anything to go by, the power vacuum left at the top and the sheer destruction and disarray that has occurred throughout society leaves a tremendous void. Neighbouring powers, as well as the major Western players, will invariably try to place their people in positions of authority while opening up the country for lucrative reconstruction contracts. But while this may be the plan all along, it is quite clear that it never works out in reality.
There is often massive destabilisation, disillusionment among the people, and disenfranchisement in relation to the political process that leads to anger, frustration and potentially further waves of resistance. This habitually leads to a response by the installed powers to repress dissent. In a global age of resistance, where defiance in the Muslim world is defined not through socialism or ethnic nationalism but through Islamic radicalism, what is there to stop the Islamic State morphing into a new appearance?
While Iraq and Libya were entirely instrumentalised by US foreign policy dynamics, the interests of Putin and Russia are directly involved and cannot be easily disassociated from any outcome that emerges in Syria. The Islamic State came out of the remains of Al Qaeda and resistance groups fighting against Assad, but Islamic State 2.0 could be a different beast altogether.
It seems there is no clear path to a peaceful solution in Syria at present. Right now the only foreseeable outcomes are on-going conflict, greater dispersal of refugees, escalating tensions between big global players and cultural misunderstanding and misinformation that occupies commentators and observers embedded in the military, political or journalistic institutions. The Syrian conflict involves significant investments by too many global institutions, and no one looks as if they are going to back out.
There can be no winners in this conflict, only losers. The everyday people of Syria will be the losers, because the main powers, knowing full well that they cannot yield a result on their own, will do everything they can to ensure that their rivals cannot succeed. It is a thoroughly ridiculous situation, wholly created by the lack of action at the right time followed by overreaction at the wrong time.