Syria's quagmire points to eventual foreign intervention
The most realistic scenario in Syria is quagmire: Assad still has loyalty; the opposition is splintered, though protests continue; and the international community is indecisive, including the Arab League. But stalemate could finally prompt foreign intervention and a needed 'safe zone.'
Much of the analysis of the crisis in Syria looks at the upheaval through a binary lens: Either Bashar al-Assad manages to defeat his political opponents and his regime survives, or the regime collapses and a new political leadership takes control of the country.Skip to next paragraph
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But there is a third, increasingly more realistic, possibility: prolonged internal violence under a weakened and failing – but neither defeated nor failed – Assad regime.
Under this framework, a better question to ask about Syria’s future would be: How long can a regime function in this “failing state limbo” and how long can it endure massive internal violence before imploding?
In Syria, the answer depends on three main factors: the strength and cohesion of the regime and its coercive apparatus, the strength and cohesion of the civil opposition to the regime, and the degree of international involvement. A brief analysis of these three elements explains why the prolonged-violence scenario seems the most likely for Syria and the Assad regime.
First, President Assad can count on a relatively strong and united regime and, specifically, he can count on the loyalty of the Army and coercive apparatus. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian military and security branches are closely identified with and connected to the regime. The potential downfall of Assad directly threatens their own status and power, giving them a strong incentive to continue backing him.
Similarly, the patronage networks created in the past decades by the minority Alawite rulers now serve as an additional incentive for security personnel and government officials alike to stand by the regime. In this sense, the regime is still strong and internally cohesive, despite some defections from the security and policy offices.
Second, in contrast to the relative unity of the regime, the opposition forces – although having risen in power and status and being able to seriously threaten the regime – still lack strong internal cohesion.
Judging from the little and not always reliable information coming out of Syria, the opposition forces have so far failed to create a truly inter-sectarian coalition (the opposition is mostly Sunni, with other groups – like the Kurds – remaining at the margins, fearing retaliation from the regime). The internal division is not surprising, considering the regime targeted and suppressed political opponents for decades.
Third, despite it’s involvement, the international community – and this definitely also applies to the Arab League – has not been willing to strongly take sides in Syria, as it did in Libya. Short of this type of intervention – which is highly unlikely right now – the future of the revolt seems to depend only on the internal balance of power between the regime and its opponents.