Like it or not, the US is in a proxy war with Russia

President Obama spoke in a press conference on October 2 regarding the United States’ involvement in Syria.

“We’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia,” he said.

Sadly, it is already a multifaceted proxy war.

Syria’s war, which has been raging since 2011, has been fought by the Assad family, which has ruled since 1970, and the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council. To put it simply, Russia supports the current government, while the United States backs the revolutionaries.

In the Middle East, Syria plays an important strategic and tactical role. Not only has the war caused instability in Syria, but the increasing political volatility within the country has contributed strongly to the rise of the Islamic State and has spilled over into parts of Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Political instability is never a good thing. That is a given. But in one of the most unpredictable and volatile parts of the world, the Syrian civil war has introduced a dangerous mix of violence and instability that threatens to destabilize the region even more.

But the political instability of Syria is only one catalyst for U.S. involvement with the region. The U.S. is also concerned with the fact that Assad’s closest ally is one of our most volatile enemies: Iran.

Iran, to safeguard its interests in the success of the Assad regime, allies itself with Russia. Iran and Russia have repeatedly backed the Assad government, providing them with tactical and physical support in the war. In September, the Russian assembly approved a plan to send its air force to commence strikes against rebel groups in Syria.

The United States, while not providing its army to the rebels, has equipped anti-Assad groups with weapons and other materiel. Furthermore, the U.S. has repeatedly engaged Syrian forces in airstrikes, a similar tactic to what Russian forces have just begun.

Russia, too, understands the geopolitical importance of the Syrian civil war. By continuing to support Assad, Russia implicitly supports Iran’s interests in the Middle East. Both countries have agreed that the greatest threat to the stability of the region is the involvement of the United States and Israel, and have signed an agreement for cooperation against Western intervention.

Clearly, the United States has an interest in ending this cooperation.

Not only have the U.S. and Russia fought this proxy war through military and logistical interventions, but this battle has spread to the United Nations. On several occasions, Russia has vetoed Security Council resolutions that would have permitted international intervention in Syria, as well as resolutions that would have involved the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes committed by the Assad regime.

But the war in Syria is a proxy war between more countries and actors than the U.S. and Russia. Iran itself is fighting against American involvement, both in Syria and in the region as a whole.

Iran has repeatedly called for an end to Western intervention in the Middle East, so it is not surprising that it hascontributed to the continuation of a Syrian government that shares Iran’s interests.

The extent of Iranian involvement in this multifaceted proxy war extends also to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s government has repeatedly called for Assad to be removed from power and has shut down the Syrian embassy. Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian officials have accused Saudi Arabia of being an American puppet in the Middle East and pandering to Western business interests.

Regardless of how many countries play a role in the Syrian civil war, its lasting effects will not be the manners in which these nations interact. Instead, Syria has affected the stability of the Middle East in a far more negative way than even the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of this millennium. It has given illegitimate non-state actors legitimacy and unbridled power. Groups like ISIS, Hezbollah and the SRCC all seek political legitimacy in the Middle East by exploiting the regional instability started with the Syrian civil war.