Following nominal independence in 1946, Syria became a theater of Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The stream of military coups between 1949 and 1970 concluded with the Hafez al-Assad putsch that left Syria in the Kremlin camp. Assad, however, proved anything but subservient to his superpower benefactor. The struggle for Syria continued in desultory fashion as Syria irritated Moscow by flirting with the U.S. in Lebanon and sending troops to support the American reconquista of Kuwait in 1991. The U.S. soon reverted to form, labeling Syria a "terrorist state" and condemning both its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and its alliance with Iran. In 2011, the struggle became a war. The U.S. and Russia, as well as local hegemons, backed opposite sides, ensuring a balance of terror that has devastated the country and defies resolution.
The Russians, having lost Aden, Egypt, and Libya years earlier, backed their only client regime in the Arab world when it came under threat. The U.S. gave rhetorical and logistical support to rebels, raising false hopes — as it had done among the Hungarian patriots it left in the lurch in 1956 — that it would intervene with force to help them. Regional allies, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, were left to dispatch arms, money, and men, while disagreeing on objectives and strategy.