The South African political scientist Greg Mills has argued that a country’s recovery is likely to be at least as long as its period of decline. As experience shows in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere, societies emerging from prolonged tyranny struggle against their own lack of practical democratic experience. The standard election-centered peacekeeping model of the past two decades often failed to establish lasting new norms of governance and civic engagement.
While it will be essential to forge an interim national unity government as quickly as possible following the Assad regime, the international community should support a textured approach in helping to building the mechanics of democracy. It should start with assisting in local and then provincial elections, as a means of encouraging popular participation in government and forging credibility of elected leaders.
In the ongoing transformation of the Middle East, Syria is the big domino. Get it right there, and democracy will gradually become the new regional norm. Success depends on aligning long-term domestic and international interests.