Good Lord.  In a way, I’m shocked that I even have to say this, but I’m seeing plenty of evidence some people are thinking the world’s about to end.

Yes, the Internet is full of terrible ideas, alternative realities, and conspiracy theories, but this one seems to be pretty popular every time I type in “Syria” these days.  Reports of Russian ships deploying off the coast; Russian threats to “support” Syria in the event of a strike; Syria’s government saying it’ll go all nuts should America attack; plenty of analysts pointing to maps showing Hezbollah’s rocket range; all of this stokes fears that somehow this fight will get out of control and we’re all going to die.

No, we’re not

World War III 43240
OMG THIS COULD HAPPEN HERE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Vladamir Putin, his entire military staff, and the nuclear forces of the Russian Federation all at once go crazy, say from, perhaps, some bad caviar or a fifteen minute delay on a vodka order at a bar, you might get World War III.  Short of that, there’s no good reason for Russia to pick a fight, conventional or nuclear, with the United States because, honestly, Syria’s just that not big of a deal.

It’s important to put Syria and its civil war into perspective.  Why do we even care about Syria?  Well, two reasons.  One, because America’s about to attack it, which has caused some kind of anti-war movement to spring up overnight (and which is told off brilliantly here).  Two, because it’s near Israel, which makes certain folks think that this must be a sign of the End Times (yet again).

Keep in mind that in the Congo, a militant group called M23 is currently actually waging war on the United Nations.  The body count from the Congo War is much, much higher, with equally brutal atrocities, but the media doesn’t plaster that on as a headline because nobody’s religion started in the Congo (well, nobody with access to mass media, at least) and no big power is particularly interested in who wins.

World War III can only happen if you believe that both Obama and Putin, as well as their military staffs, are suicidal

They’re not.  They’re rational actors who understand the limits of their respective militaries.  Why is Putin sending ships to the coast of Syria?  For several non-threatening reasons.  His ships can monitor and gather intel on U.S. missile launches, thereby gaining some information on current U.S. missile systems and their effectiveness.  He can also pretend he’s being a tough guy at home, pandering to the Russian nationalists that are his base.  But he’s not sending the entire Black Sea fleet into full battle mode – and he knows that if he did, they’d be outmatched by the U.S. Sixth Fleet.  After all, Russia has only one aircraft carrier.

Obama, conversely, is deploying a handful of ships, rather than the whole Mediterranean fleet, and no group troops.  There’s no way he can invade Syria with such a force.  Nor does he want to.  What a fantastic way to sink his foreign policy legacy.  He wants to be remembered for ending Bush’s wars and killing bin Laden.  Syria’s been a horrible distraction he’d rather never happened.

“BUT WAIT.  WHAT IF THERE’S A CLASH BETWEEN RUSSIAN AND AMERICAN SHIPS?” some might ask.

Again, this only results in World War III if both sides are suicidal.  In the 1967 6 Day War, Israel accidentally attacked an American warship, killing 34 sailors.  Why then did this not result in an Israeli-American war?  Because neither side wanted it.

Even if some idiot captains pick fights they shouldn’t, World War III still requires both Obama and Putin to systematically escalate the situation, from counterattacks to an eventual full nuclear exchange.  It also requires the armed forces of both Russia and America to go along with the madness, when every soldier in uniform is well aware that a clash between the two is a no-win scenario.  How long until a Russian general refuses an insane order?  Or an American one?  Probably, quite frankly, not long.

Hezbollah is a lovely little militia, but it’s still a militia

In 2006, Hezbollah picked a fight with Israel.  It won a propaganda victory, but at great cost.  Later, Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, apologized for starting things up.  The price was too high.  Should Hezbollah attack Israel again, they’ll suffer for it.  It seems unlikely that, with their forces already committed to Syria (and hurting accordingly), they’d want to open a two front war, especially with a power that’s far superior to them.

Hizbollah flag in Syria.
Very good at flag posting but not great at starting world wars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Syria, too, wants to keep the conflict contained

Syria has no interest in attacking Israel either.  We’ve already shown how Syria’s army is, generally speaking, pretty terrible.  The Israeli military will win that contest and both sides know it.  So while Syria might be tempted to bomb the Golan Heights to show off how tough they are, they probably won’t.  Do they really want an alliance made in hell between the Israelis and the Free Syrian Army?  That only makes sense if you believe Assad is actually batshit insane, and not just a ruthless warlord committed to killing his way to power.

But what about Iran?  Iran wants World War III for sure!

No, it doesn’t.  If Iran wanted World War III, they’d have started it by now.  I’ve discussed before how Iran values Syria, but doesn’t strategically need it.  Much too much has been made of this corridor to Hezbollah.  Hezbollah is a lovely bit of influence that gives Iran’s government some tidy propaganda to distract their own citizens from their inept governance.  But they need it the way you need a TV in your bedroom.  It’s far more important to ensure that Iraq stays defanged and under some Iranian-leaning government.  Tehran wants to show it’ll support its friends through thick and thin, but it’s doing so with an eye to Baghdad.

Conspiracy Theory Overlap Diagram
Memorizing this is a better use of your time. (Photo credit: Vince_Lamb)

So after the attack, it’ll be a lot of condemnations, but little retalation

Russia will call America a tyrant, yet again, and hope this solidifies Putin’s increasingly shaky base.  Iran will send cash and weapons to try to repair the damage caused by the U.S., but won’t dare strike U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, knowing to do so will result in their regime being pounded and possibly overthrown.  Hezbollah might fire some rockets at Israel, just to say they did, and will be hit back accordingly by the IDF.  And Syria’s government will duck and cover and hope it’s all over soon.

There’ll probably be some asymmetrical attacks after.  Somebody will try to suicide bomb American interests somewhere and hope they aren’t traced back to their masters in some capital.  The Syrian Electronic Army might take down the New York Times online site again.  But none of these have the potential to unleash a contest between Russia and the United States.

It’s not going to be World War III, and in ten years the media will have to remind you that it even happened

Lots of people seem to have forgotten Kosovo, largely because it didn’t result in World War III.  But at the time, the same kind of nutty voices were crying a lot about Armageddon.  Russia lined up with Serbia; America attacked without UN support; the world didn’t end.   Now, media sources have to remind readers that the Kosovo war happened in 1999 over human rights abuses.  Obama’s not occupying Syria; this won’t go on and on and on the way Iraq and Afghanistan did. It’ll be just as forgettable as the Balkans, given enough time.

So relax.  Take a breath.  Find something better to get hysterical about.  The world will still be here come October.

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