We're reaching the end of 2015 with no end in sight over Syria. The carnage and agony continue. So do the detentions, the torture, the deaths in custody, the "disappearances" and state gangsterism. The Syrian government's barrel bombings also continue and the ever-widening internationalisation of the conflict appears to mean that any eventual resolution is harder still to envisage. But what, if anything, have we learnt about the Syria crisis during 2015? Here are a few thoughts...
Within the next week Members of Parliament will be voting on whether to launch air strikes against ISIS in Syria. With many Labour and Conservative MPs in support of extending air strikes into Syria, it is likely that the first bombing raids will take place towards the end of next week. But it has not been determined what the government wishes to achieve by bombing Syria.
There has been precious little to praise about the regime of Vladimir Putin in recent years. His actions in stoking civil war in Ukraine and annexing the Crimea region is criminal under international law, his crackdown on political opposition and dissenting voices has seen numerous state-sponsored and the oppression that can be experienced in Russia by ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBT community, is shocking and criminally under-reported here in the west.
Bashar al-Assad is responsible for some of the most heinous war crimes of recent times, including the use of chemical weapons, the mass imprisonment and torture of political opponents, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas causing massive casualties. Yet the unpalatable reality must surely be that, despite his grim record, he remains indispensable in the search for an end to the conflict.
There is a great Arabic proverb: 'farkh al-bat awwam'. In English, 'the son of a duck, floats', or, 'like father, like son'. In Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's case, Mr al-Assad doesn't so much float as sink like a stone... Fifteen years ago today, Bashar 'inherited' the rule of Syria from his father, who, to be clear, wasn't much of a floater himself. Fifteen years on, Bashar has practically destroyed the country.
After the rejection by the British Parliament of intervention against Assad, he has been given free rein to destroy Syria and its people, creating devastation, chaos and a power vacuum. Into that gap stepped Islamic State, Iran and the Shia militias which have committed brutal and widespread crimes of their own.
If Europe wishes to find a solution for the problems of the Middle East, it needs to correct a number of misconceptions about Syria. Most importantly, it needs to realise that the key threat is not ISIS but the Assad regime, both of which are engaged with a fight to the death with Europe's only possible ally: the rebels.