An Ugly Future in Damascus

Slim chances of success in Syria

I have been skeptical about the chances for positive outcome in Syria for a while. There is a much larger possibility of sectarian civil war than a peaceful overthrow of the Assad regime. The opposition is disorganized and divided – both domestically and internationally, the business class is largely staying loyal to the regime, the army and security services have been nearly completely loyal to Assad (perhaps out of fear of the aforementioned possibility for sectarian violence), and the international community has little to no influence over the Assad regime. Well at least I am not the only one who sees only trouble in Damascus:

Most likely, the Assad regime will survive, despite sanctions, diplomatic isolation and economic dislocation. Syria has been through this before, with the Americans alternating between labelling the regime a pariah and making overtures aimed at drawing Damascus into dialogue. Neither has worked.

Syria’s leadership is now subject to intense worldwide scrutiny and criticism, from Washington to Riyadh to Moscow. The language of human rights, however defined, may be pervasive, but the reality is different. It’s quite possible that many in the international community view a reassertion of Mr. al-Assad’s power, as distasteful as it is, as the lesser of evils, in a situation where chaos seems the most likely alternative. – Michael Bell

Pepe Escobar tries to frame the Syrian conflict through a regional sectarian lens – which, after the recall of the Saudi ambassador and the Turkish tongue-lashing might be appropriate – and ends with the same pessimistic view: Assad is not going anywhere.

The Assad regime has done the math and realized it won’t fall as long as the protests don’t reach the capital Damascus and the major city of Aleppo – that is, convulse the urban middle class. The security/military apparatus is fully behind Assad. All Syrian religious minorities make up at least 25% of the population; they are extremely fearful of Sunni fundamentalists. Secular Sunnis for their part fear a regime change that would lead to either an Islamist takeover or chaos. So it’s fair to argue the majority of Syrians are indeed behind their government – as inept and heavy-handed as it may be.

Moreover, the Assad regime knows the conditions are not ripe for a Libyan-style North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign in Syria. There won’t even be a vote for a UN resolution – Russia and China have already made it clear.

US Secretary of State Clinton recently pushed for more international condemnation and sanctioning of Syria, particularly from China and India, and reiterated the illegitimate leader claim. Clinton’s speech was little more than an acknowledgement that there was very little that the US can do to alter what has become a very ugly situation.

Edit: Greg Scoblete wonders why the United States would ratchet-up its rhetoric around Syria (possible calling for regime change) without having any: a) plan to expedite Assad’s departure; and b) any idea of what would follow Assad’s fall:

It’s remarkable the extent to which moral preening has become a substitute for foreign policy. What good will it do to call for Assad’s ouster without concrete steps to hasten his departure? In Libya, Gaddafi is still holding onto power in the face of sanctions, an armed uprising and a NATO bombing campaign aimed rather explicitly at assassinating him. It’s unlikely Assad would face anything approaching that level of coercive force…

It’s worth asking why President Obama feels it necessary to wade in deeper here. The U.S. has expressed its displeasure and is working with Turkey to exert pressure on Assad to end the violence. Escalating our rhetorical stake without an equal commitment to up our material stake is utterly feckless. It won’t, as Pillar notes, pacify the neoconservative pundits baying for another ill-begotten intervention. It won’t make the war in Libya proceed any smoother. It won’t help in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Scoblete, in turn, quotes Paul Pillar, who describes the “minefield” that would result from regime change in Syria:

It’s pretty easy to see why the Obama administration has been dancing around any explicit call for regime change in Syria. One, there does not appear to be a good path for accomplishing that goal. And two, Mr. Obama realizes that if he did explicitly adopt that goal, he would be criticized—by some of the same people who criticize him now for not being more explicit—for not accomplishing, or finding more active ways to pursue, a declared U.S. objective. The criticism would be rooted in the invalid but common idea that if there’s something worth doing in the world, the United States ought to be the one to do it.

Oh boy.

Photo from Kobason 

3 thoughts on “An Ugly Future in Damascus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s