By Fareed Zakaria
Syria has been unstable from its birth. Between its independence in 1946 and Assad’s coup, there were around 10 other coups and attempted coups. By the late 1970s, it was already divided into camps, largely defined by Islamism and sect. Outside powers in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran — have been funding, arming and training militants on both sides. In 2011, these long-simmering tensions bubbled over.
Today, according to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, there are about 1,500 separate insurgent groups in Syria, with between 75,000 and 115,000 insurgents. In addition, there are 7,500 foreign fighters from neighboring countries. The strongest groups are all radical Islamist — the Islamic State, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.