For each intruder, ideology trumps practical goals. To the jihadists, just as with the Soviets in Spain, allies who refuse to fall in with the program, fundamentalist Islam on the one hand, hard-core Leninism on the other, become enemies – perhaps even more hated than the enemy they have come to fight.
In Syria the jihadists and the more secular rebels, the originators of the movement against Assad, have become embroiled in intramural battles. The Spanish loyalists, whose objective was to protect the republican government against the fascists, found themselves instead struggling to keep the communists from gaining political control.
Because the Syrian rebels now have to deal with the truculence of the jihadists as well as the army, Assad has been able to regain territory that had been in the hands of the rebels. Similarly, in Spain, Franco’s forces were able to take advantage of the enmities that divided the left.
To carry the parallel a bit further: Iran and Hezbollah are playing similar roles in Syria to those played by Germany and Italy in Spain, while countries sympathetic to the other sides – the Republicans in Spain and the opposition in Syria – have been dilatory and squeamish with their aid.
There is no particular lesson to be learned from all this – except, perhaps, to beware of help from “friends” who have their own agendas.