Sometimes trying to sort out the alliances and enmities of the Middle East, or attempting to analyze the fissures within different Islamic sects, can make you feel as if you're on drugs inside of a funhouse, stumbling into mirrors and groping to sort your way through the maze.
There are the Shias, Sunnis, Wahhabis, Salafists, Alawites, Twelvers, plus Sufism and myriad politically-oriented groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, al Aqusa Martyrs, al Shabaab, et al... I've probably only scratched the surface.
Primarily Shia Iran supports secular Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. So does the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah, which has been a thorn in Israel's side for decades. But al Qaeda, a Sunni terrorist organization, is a key player among the patchwork of rebel groups attempting to overthrow Assad. No doubt, if they succeed in toppling his government, these factions will fight amongst themselves for the spoils.
Over 20 years ago, when the first President Bush formed a broad coalition to kick Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis out of Kuwait, Assad's late father Hafez al-Assad, joined the coalition against Hussein. This despite the fact Assad and Hussein both were Baathists (a socialist, secular party).
Then there's the Arab-Persian dynamic. Some experts such as Professor Fouad Ajami, believe the mistrust and cultural differences between Iranian and Iraqi Shiites will prevent Iran from having its way in Iraq. Time will tell.
Meantime, I think the roiling stew of dysfunctional and violent groups in Syria makes it crystal clear that the United States ought not to get involved in that train wreck of a nation. There is little chance of successfully nurturing a desirable outcome. Besides, lest we forget, we are $17 trillion in debt, have crumbling roads and bridges, and millions of unemployed citizens.
At some point, you've got to look out for No. 1.