The Middle East
Is Syria on the Verge of a Tipping Point?

The brutality of the Islamic State may have opened a window for regime change in Damascus.

Published on: September 8, 2014
Henri J. Barkey is professor of international relations at Lehigh University.
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  • MoFreedomFoundation .

    How to out Libya Libya in a few silly words. We really need some new foreign policy intellectuals.

    How about Me?

    http://www.youtube.com/user/MoFreedomFoundation/videos

    • Andrew Allison

      “new foreign policy intellectuals” suggests that there are already some. Evidence?

      • Pete

        There are little but arrogant, effeminate snobs in our foreign affairs establishment.

        Look at the Sec. of State as a prime example.

        • Andrew Allison

          Gigolo, gigolo, gigolo! (with apologies to Mozart).

  • Gene

    Iran will never agree to any outcome that does not either maintain the Assad regime or at least replace it with some other kind of ally/puppet. Syria is too important to Tehran. That this essay talks about the Iranians as if they have no more of a stake in Syria than anyone else is just amazing.

  • Fat_Man

    There are two posibilites for Syria. The most likely one at this point, assuming that we do a lot of damage to ISIS, is that Assad regains control and slaughters every Sunni he can lay his hands on. The alternative is that Syria disintegrates into waring cantons, stays that way, and every one outside of Syria looses interest in a low intensity conflict.

    • gabrielsyme

      Assad has no reason to attempt a genocide. With Sunni Arabs making up the majority of the country, such an attempt almost certainly provoke an invasion by the Saudis and Jordanians, and perhaps by Turkey as well. Moreover, such an attempt would almost certainly fail even without external intervention, and leave his country ungovernable and economically crippled.

      Assad, while brutal to anti-regime movements, has always treated Sunnis with equality and even now maintains substantial Sunni support. It is absurd to think that a regime that has built its legitimacy on its even-handed treatment of all Syrians regardless of creed would destroy that by attempting the impossible.

      • Fat_Man

        Why do you think that Assad needs a reason, or that he will behave rationally?

    • andrewp111

      ISIS could win and slay the Shia down to the ants and roaches. In fact, this is the most likely outcome.

  • feralcat

    “Even for Russia and Iran, therefore, it has become foolhardy in the long run to support Assad, and thereby become IS’s enablers.”

    Eliminating Assad would be to even further enable ISIS. What kind of idiots is the so called “American Interest” made up of anyway? The same idiots who wanted to eliminate Gaddafi? How much funding does the so-called “American Interest” get from the Saudis anyway?

  • Maynerd

    I’m afraid Mr. Barkley is engaging in wishful thinking. Hatred begets hatred. Chaos begets chaos. We are still waiting for Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Libya etc. to form a sane social contract with their citizens.

    It’s far more likely that the most powerful and ruthless faction will vanquish the rest.

    What a cluster.

  • ljgude

    Assad is a member of the Alawite minority who identify as Shia Muslim but who are also regarded as heretical by orthodox Shiites and Sunnis. IS for sure, and many factions of the Sunni majority would put them to the sword and to some extent the Christians and the Druze. I don’t see anything in this article that accounts for who might replace Assad. Alawite and allied with Iran at a minimum which puts the US in an awkward position. (Iran would be happy if Hezbollah ruled Syria, obviously, but, one dares hope, that Kerry and Obama wouldn’t support that outcome.) A rump Alawite ruled Syria in the mountains? Perhaps. I don’t see a reset (to use a vexed term) in Syria unless it maintains the status quo by replacing Assad from within the Baath party. I don’t agree with the author that Assad would be seriously inconvenienced by the families of soldiers slaughtered by IS. My understanding of the way Assad would handle complaining parents is that he would simply shoot enough of them to remind them that the alternative is for everyone to be slaughtered by the Sunni extremists. The Syrian minority groups really have nowhere else to go.

  • gabrielsyme

    This bizarre bit of wishful thinking fails every measure of reason. Russia and Iran happy to abandon their client! Pro-government Syrians delighted to exchange the one force protecting their communities from ISIS for a nebulous and almost-certainly unstable collection of plotters?

    The real world at times requires tough choices, and it requires working with less-than-perfect allies. The Assad government is the only thing keeping the genocide of millions of Syrians at bay, and it is unsurprising that it has been so unmerciful in the face of such a grave and growing risk. However, if we are to be in the least responsible, it is high time to make some degree of common cause with Assad and thereby deny ISIS a safe harbour, make safe Syrian minorities, and restore some stability to Syria.

    And take a look at this:

    Washington will work with anyone in Damascus who does not have Syrian civilian blood on his or her hands.

    How will it support a new government in Damascus, which, in all likelihood, would be composed, of military officers?

    How Prof. Barkey thinks you can find military officers in Syria who don’t have “civilian blood on his… hands” is hard to fathom. Is it too much to ask for basic consistency?

  • Duperray

    Too many claim terrorists shall not be confused with “quiet” muslim states. Tragic error, since “quiet” Saudi and Qatar have consistently funded most of islamic terrorism for decades: West does not want to open its eyes, perhaps because glued with black crude oil?

    Look how much muslim and supporters have already achieved their conquest of Europe. Take UK, a very modern minded state, perhaps the most modern. Then Rotherham Scandal (where 1400 children have been sexually abducted for 16 years…) without Police and other authorities – fully aware of these dirty proceedings – did’nt move a single finger, did’nt whistle once, did’nt “pay attention”; for what ??

    Because of “fear to be criticized as basic anti-muslim activists”. What a SHAME for public servants in charge of this.
    It shows how deep british public society is contaminated, metastasised, tetanized: For any “fear”, they even dont try to respect western Laws in vigor, let’s say about basic Morality.
    It is really comparable to an AIDS infected patient near to death: His immunitary system is so tetanized, it no longer works and any small influenza develops to death.

    Who is guilty for that? For sure muslim propagandists. But their effect would have been nil shall all the galaxy of Left would not exist. In many european countries, islam is so much promoted by Left (NGO, socialist party, greens, some unions, many politicians even right wing) and for so many decades that civilian society is almost dead: 95% of butchery animals are killed in line with hallal, churches (which maintenance is at the economic charge of State) are left decaying while many new mosquees are funded by the same State, and so on. External islam external signs are more and more included in new laws.
    What still differentiates european cities from those of North Africa ? Religious freedom, but for how long?

  • Frank Horzabky

    An idiotic article, I don’t even know where to begin. The author wants the Syrians to turn against Assad, with a promise by the US that they will eliminate ISIS in Syria AFTER Assad is removed. If the Syrians believe that, I have a nice bridge I want to sell them.

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