Assad's actions in Syria spur US to consider intervening
The ongoing violence in Syria, despite the regime's lip service to the Annan peace plan, has pushed the Obama administration to weigh stronger steps.
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However, that is the outcome that the Syrian authorities fear the most. If Syrian security forces and heavy armor are withdrawn from cities, the opposition protesters emboldened by the presence of UN observers could resume anti-regime demonstrations with even greater vigor than the initial protests a year ago. If those demonstrations were to spread unchecked to the centers of Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities, the Assad regime would face a very grave situation.Skip to next paragraph
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On the other hand, the Syrian opposition is uninterested in another component of Annan’s plan that calls for dialogue with the Syrian authorities. As far as the opposition is concerned, negotiations with the regime are futile unless they are restricted to discussing a speedy end to Assad’s rule, a condition that the Syrian leadership would reject.
“There’s no point in talks with the regime. We have nothing to talk about. We want Assad gone. That’s it,” says Ahmad, a Syrian activist living in hiding in north Lebanon.
Potentially more complex than Iraq
Although the Annan plan is still in the early stages of implementation, the pessimism that surrounds it has left policy planners in the US and Europe mulling alternative options should it fail in the weeks ahead. The administration of President Obama has limited its actions toward Syria to rhetoric and sanctions, evidently reluctant to be drawn back into the Middle East only months after ending its military involvement with Iraq and while in the process of drawing down in Afghanistan.
Certainly, Syria, a seething cauldron of sectarian and ethnic turmoil and an emerging new regional battleground, is potentially even more complex and dangerous than Iraq.
According to Randa Slim, a Washington-based scholar at the Middle East Institute and an adjunct research fellow at the New America Foundation specializing in Syrian affairs, the conflict in Syria has three components:
- an existential struggle between the Assad regime dominated by the minority Alawite sect and a lightly-armed, mainly Sunni opposition
- a regional power struggle between Iran, an ally of the Syrian regime, and Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni Arab power
- an international test of wills between the US and Russia and China, both of which back the Assad regime.
“If the current state of play at any of these levels is not altered significantly, the current stalemate can endure for some time,” Ms. Slim says. “In the meantime, sectarian polarization will deepen and the country will keep its descent toward what is becoming an inevitable scenario: a sectarian war pitting Alawites against Sunnis with potential spillover into neighboring countries.”