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Middle East: Separating strands of fact and fantasy

With Russia becoming involved in military action in Syria, and Iran now being allowed back into the group of nations at the negotiating table, and Europe failing to cope with a stream of refugees, the stakes certainly seem to have changed. What was a brutal civil war now contains elements of a proxy war in old Cold War style, houses the possibility for old scores to be settled in the power struggle between Iran and the Saudis, and the frightening specter of one mistake of a bomb aimed at terrorists striking another foreign player triggering serious repercussions.

Even before the latest twists in this convoluted saga, it was pretty hard for the average citizen in Europe to sort out what was going on and who were the real bad guys. This conundrum was famously summed up in a letter to Britain's Daily Mail newspaper from one Aubrey Bailey, residing in the respectable English town of Fleet in Hampshire. It has been shared across social media countless times, but just in case you haven't come across it yet, here it is in all its glory:

“Are you confused about what's going on in the Middle East? Let me explain.

We support the Iraqi government in the fight against the Islamic State [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]. We don't like IS but IS is supported by Saudi Arabia, whom we do like. We don't like President [Bashar al-]Assad. We support the fight against him but not IS which is also fighting against him.

We don't like Iran but Iran supports the Iraqi government against IS. So, some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies whom we want to lose but we don't want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

If the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less. And all this was started by us invading a country to drive out terrorists who weren't actually there until we went in to drive them out. Do you understand now?”

If Aubrey were writing today, he (for it is normally a man's name among the English middle-classes) would be able to add in more strands of confusion by alluding to the Russians and Turkey, too. Sadly, those meeting
around the table in Vienna last week must have been painfully aware of the accuracy of this satirical analysis.

They had been unable to invite anyone from Syria to attend the talks because, first, all of the other parties in the disastrous debacle have to sort out the external influences before the internal situation can even begin to approach a resolution.

Read more: Separating strands of fact and fantasy

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