Assad’s Frustrated Foreign Enemies
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Various parties have been assessing the outlook for the crisis in Syria based on the evidence on the ground. The domestic scene is set to remain polarized for a long time. National understandings that can restore the country’s political unity and a cohesive national identity cannot be expected any time soon. The external scene has meanwhile become more complicated in light of the intensifying battle between the two camps over who will take hold of Syria, or who will wield the most influence in it.
On the domestic front, sources recently in Damascus say the political split is as sharp as ever. The pro-regime camp is holding together and its members have become more politically hard-line in their intolerance of all moves made by any opposition group. They deem the battle to be one against groups that have been armed – not just militarily but also in the political, propaganda, and economic senses – to target Syria, and not just its regime. They see President Bashar Assad as a symbol, and they want him to make no concessions at present. This loyalty has been accompanied by mobilization which has a minority, sectarian, and confessional dimension, though this is not fully reflected in the big cities.
On the other side, opposition groups loudly trumpet their rejection of any kind of dialogue with the regime. Indeed, they have moved on to refusing to deal with the regime’s institutions, conflating the state with the regime. They have thus started justifying attacks by gunmen on policemen and police stations or public institutions, or the bombing of vital infrastructure, as well as seeking to maximize pressure on the Syrian pound. They have also become increasingly virulent in their verbal attacks on people in the regime, and also on sects and denominations, betraying their need to keep tensions high.
A third group, which grows in size by the day, fears for Syria. This includes people who refuse to be asked where they stand. They are no longer prepared to get into a debate about who is right and who is wrong. Their concern is for the country’s unity and stability, and that priority overrides all others – even while they concur that this view ultimately works to the advantage of the regime at present.
Moreover, many Syrians who used to support the uprising for change have stepped back because of their abhorrence of the behavior of opposition groups – whether the armed groups inside Syria, or the offshore opposition groups that are trying to summon foreign military intervention in the country, without concern for the potentially catastrophic consequences of such a step.
Abroad, meanwhile, one year after the start of the crisis, plans are being reviewed. Miscalculations have been made, especially by those of the regime’s enemies who – with extreme optimism born of chronically deficient political judgement – expected that it would fall in a few weeks or months. Their disappointment and dismay shows, both on their faces and in statements. It is also apparent from the behavior of their diplomats, political allies, media, and security agencies.
This dismay is not only due to the inability of the internal opposition to bring about change within Syria. It is also because of their own failure to devise practical plans capable of achieving their goal of toppling the regime. They can now see in practice that the militarization of the civic protests in Syria created a major public credibility crisis for the opposition, and that going further as in Libya, or even Yemen, would only make people wearier.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and its leaders have shown no sign of collapse. Despite several months of applying security, media, economic, diplomatic, and political pressure, it is clear to the regime’s enemies that it remains cohesive, as do its military and security forces. Nor have state institutions, for all their weakness, witnessed the kind of collapse that would obviate the regime’s need for them. Moreover, the regime’s enemies can see it has managed to restore control on the ground in many parts of the country, and has dealt powerful blows to its opponents – especially the armed groups which believed in the military overthrow of the regime.
Alongside these developments, the position of Russia and China, along with other regional and world powers, provided the regime with strong support against the foreign adversaries seeking to intervene to overthrow it. This is evident from the discussions currently taking place, and even the resort to the game of envoys and go-betweens, which nobody believes will arrive at any result in the foreseeable future.
All of this further narrows the options available to the Syrian regime’s enemies. But that won’t necessarily make them give up or back down. Rather, their increasingly hostile behavior suggests they are considering other means of achieving their objective.
Among the options said to be under discussion by these countries – and which other capitals have warned against – is action to persuade senior officers to mount a coup against the regime, or to make them feel personally under threat. It also seems that the insane among the Syrian regime’s enemies have started contemplating insane actions, namely, getting rid of Assad personally.
Do they think assassinating Assad will give them a chance to take hold of Syria?
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.