Douthat fails to thread the needle, after making a fairly convincing argument that the Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for WWII, and drawing parallels with Syria.
Ross Douthat, Spain Yesterday, Syria Today
If the war in Spain previewed an era of totalitarian aggrandizement, the war in Syria has exposed the essential hollowness of so-called nation-states, the ease with which ethnic and religious furies can take over when they crack.
If the war in Spain was a proving ground for eastern front-style total war, the war in Syria is a training ground for Paris-style terrorists.
If the war in Spain ushered in a decade of vast militaries on the march, the war in Syria is giving us civilians on the march — the movement of refugees as a geopolitical crisis.
If the war in Spain demonstrated that Hitler and Stalin were happy to step in when a liberal center failed to hold, the war in Syria demonstrates that the Pax Americana is cracking and no power or alliance is remotely prepared to take its place.
If the war in Spain was a dress rehearsal for World War II — well, the truth about Syria is that it’s probably not a rehearsal for anything. It’s the main event, and nobody can foresee when it will end.
So, why not push the analogy? Syria **is** a rehearsal, a rehearsal for the collapse of traditional power politics in the postcolonial Islam world.
The final reverberations of the collapse of colonialism (the inheritor of all the ills of the era of empires) — which didn’t really end until the ’70s — and the mess in Syria is as good a poster child as any.
How long will post-colonial Asia and Africa seethe, with proto-nationalist fervor and internecine hatred? Another 100 years? two hundred? What would the dissolution of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Gulf States mean?
Syria is a rehearsal for a postnormal era, where WWII alliances and antipathies cease to define the principal lines of politics, and where most of the lines on the globe may have to be redrawn, or their meanings reconsidered.