A week ago I posted a video from John Green about the current refugee crisis in Europe, much of which is the result of the ongoing civil war in Syria. Here John's brother Hank (who possibly drinks nothing but espresso) on the subject of the war itself. He crams a remarkable amount of information into five and a half minutes. Once again I learned a fair amount that was new to me.
I should mention that there is hardly any overlap between this video about the war and the one from John (or the one I posted Wednesday) on the refugee crisis provoked by the war. As Hank points out, the situation is so bad that it's hard to see what can be done about it. (Even doing nothing doesn't seem like a great option.)
One annoyance: The subtitles go by so fast you can't really read them, certainly not while listening to Hank's Warp 12 monolog at the same time. So get ready to pause the video. In the meantime, here's the gist of what the subtitles have to say along with a little additional information:
Alawites (also called Alawis) are members of a branch of Islam that is considered heretical by many other Muslims, including Syria's Sunni majority. Many Alawite beliefs are kept secret. According to scholars who have studied Alawism, they appear to believe in a sort of trinity, that is, three aspects of God, but a trinity quite different from that of mainstream Christianity, and all three aspects have taken human form. In addition, as one of Hank Green's subtitles mentions, Alawites celebrate Christmas.
Though only about 1/8 of the population of Syria are Alawites, Alawites control the Syrian government and enjoy many special privileges. Syria's dictator, President Assad, is an Alawite and a member of the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath Party is in theory Socialist and was founded to call for the creation of a unified Arab state. In practice it couldn't even keep itself a unified party, splitting between its Syrian and Iraqi branches.
The head of Iraq's Ba'ath Party was Saddam Hussein. After the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration disbanded the Iraqi Ba'ath Party and threw its members out of the government. That must have seemed like a sensible move at the time, but it proved to be a major mistake. Many people had joined the Ba'ath Party simply because they needed to in order to get a good job or a promotion to a management position. Hence getting rid of Ba'athists in effect meant firing a lot of managers who weren't particularly political but who did a competent job of keeping power plants and water utilities working. Meanwhile the Iraqi armed forces and its Ba'athist officer corps were disbanded. Many of the best and most experienced officers wound up fighting for the self-declared Islamic State (better known as ISIL/ISIS), which helps explain their military successes.
One quibble: Hank Green apparently buys into the notion that it was a total accident that Secretary of State Kerry was able to persuade Vladimir Putin to pressure Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Yeah, well, maybe that's what happened, but it seems a stretch to treat it as established fact.by