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The War in Syria

The war in Syria is now in a critical phase. Since the beginning of the struggle, we’ve spoken of Damascus and Aleppo as the core of Assad’s strength and the cities he must hold to hold the country. Damascus is the political capital and Aleppo is the commercial capital. In both cities, the mainly Alawite government has forged close ties with some leading Sunni families and those links combined with Assad’s military strength are what holds the regime together.

Until very recently the violence in Syria raged in secondary cities and the boondocks; now the emboldened opposition has struck at the core of Assad’s power. He must re-establish control or the regime will disintegrate.

From here, a lot of things can happen, and most of them are bad. There have been signs recently that the Alawites are planning to “fort up” in the mountain and coastal areas where they have traditionally lived. The country could split up at least temporarily as tribes, ethnic and religious minorities, rebels and gangs struggle for control. Assad could use his WMD in a last ditch effort to regain control — or he could regain control using normal means and the war go back to its earlier, inconclusive state, for a while. US or other foreign forces could get involved in an effort to get control of those weapons before they go to Hezbollah — and be stuck trying to keep a difficult peace in a fractured state.

Or peace and order could return as Assad slips away and the rebels build a free and fair Syria on the ruins of the old regime.

Revolutions and civil wars present governments with impossible problems. Nobody can predict the consequences of action — or of inaction. History moves at lightening speed; there is no time for study groups, long term analysis or consensus building. The President has to act, or not act as he thinks fit.

The rest of us must hope that he, and the other world leaders involved in the situation, are either lucky or right. And let’s hope also for some wisdom and courage in Syria.

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  • Nathan

    I’ve done some looking into the nationalist ideology of Ba’ath party that Mr. Assad belongs to (or heads or whatever), and I’m not sure that it allows for this dictator to capitulate and allow democracy to run its course.

    Assuming that Mr. Assad actually believes in Ba’athist philosophy, every gain by the rebels is only more evidence that he needs to fight harder. Sadly, I don’t think that the rosier outcomes of the Syria conflict proposed here are even mildly plausible.

    The world should be preparing for this to get continually more messy.

  • Kevin

    I think Ba’athist ideology is pretty much a fig leaf. Assad is fighting because he likes being the Big Cheese and the alternative is death (if the Syrians get him) or prison (if the West/ICC get him). If the West or Russia offered him and his forty best friends (and family) a cushy exile/retirement (including immunity from prosecution) he may well consider taking the deal if the fighting goes bad. If nobody can credibly offer him a better deal he will fight to the end (unless his cronies betray him first).

  • Stephen Hartshorne

    A rare typo on ViaMeadia: I think you mean lightning speed.

  • Nathan

    Kevin, that’s why I leave open the question of whether Assad really believes in the Ba’athist party line. If he does, however, it doesn’t leave open the possibility of taking the desires of the people into account: Ba’athist ideology specifically denies the will of the people (for their own “good”).

    Of course, there’s still a chance that raw ideology gives way to self-interest. I think he already has been offered exile deals, though. I think we’ve been down that road. Could increased pressure and likelihood of defeat change that dynamic? Sure, but at some point as you approach total overthrow of the government, the difference between that and an exile deal ceases to matter.

  • Kris

    Nathan@4: “Ba’athist ideology specifically denies the will of the people”

    Exercise for the reader: Consider the preceding statement in conjunction with the fact that many/most of the Ba’ath founders were members of the Christian minority.

  • Kevin

    @Nathan – Assad didn’t take such a deal when it looked like he could crush the uprising. The dicier the situation looks the more attractive the deal.

    I would be shocked if Ba’athist ideology or the will of the people concerned Assad and other senior members of the regime. I’m pretty sure the only thing they are about is power and money (or similar material factors).

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