Best Defense

The dark places of the Mideast, or why there is little we can do about Syria

The other day John McCreary wrote of Syria that, "the number of cities and the size of the crowds are diminishing. The crackdown still seems to be winning. There is no revolution in Syria." CNAS’s Greg McGowan agrees, and here explains why. By Gregory McGowan Best Defense guest correspondent There could not have been a ...

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

The other day John McCreary wrote of Syria that, "the number of cities and the size of the crowds are diminishing. The crackdown still seems to be winning. There is no revolution in Syria." CNAS’s Greg McGowan agrees, and here explains why.

By Gregory McGowan
Best Defense guest correspondent

There could not have been a more appropriate time for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) to host its event "Unrest in Syria: How Will the U.S. Respond?" than the morning of President Obama’s address on the Middle East. Here are the takeaways:

–Right off the bat, John Hannah, a Senior Fellow at FDD and former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, set the strategic backdrop: "Syria is the lynchpin in the U.S.-Iran competition that has come to frame our view of the Middle East." Hannah’s Iran-centric notion went unchallenged, making me wish I had brought with me a box full of Marc Lynch’s new Iran report.

–Surprisingly, the prevailing sentiment was that the last days of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are at hand. As FDD Research Fellow Tony Badran said: "The era of Assad is finished; it’s clear." The suggestion was that, with all moral legitimacy destroyed away by his murderous acts against his own people, the dictator has few partners in Syria and virtually none, save Iran, abroad. The Syrian military and security forces, as Badran highlighted, are occupying their own country. Al-Assad has placed snipers on rooftops throughout Syria, ordered his forces to meet protests with live ammunition, besieged cities with tanks and shelling and co-opted Alawite ‘gangs’ to do his bidding, to name just a few of his tactics. Much like Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, al-Assad’s has gone door to door, and much of the opposition has disappeared. The panel seemed to unanimously agree that such atrocities have exacted enough of a toll on al-Assad’s credibility that he can no longer maintain control of his country.

–A notable exeception to this view came from Jonathan Spyer, a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA). He offered what I saw as a much more realistic assessment of the situation, describing three possible scenarios that could wrench al-Assad from power. First, a rupture in the Syrian security forces could somehow produce enough defectors to stage a coup. With little evidence of defectors thus far-due in part to the precedent set by al-Assad, who ordered those soldiers refusing to fire on protestors to be killed-there is almost no hope for this prospect. Another scenario could be the formation of a legitimate and coherent opposition with enough weight to challenge the ruling regime. But the brutal force and systematic arrest of anyone considered an enemy of the regime has landed most of the actors capable of forming such a movement, and their families, in shady prisons across the country. Thus far, there is little evidence of an organized opposition-a dynamic unlikely to change.

So I think what we’re left with in Syria is, as John Hannah put it, "a giant step into the dark." The United States can do little more than stand back and watch. Unlike the positive and hopeful human progress we’ve witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia, where the actors and institutions were in place for Washington to partner with, there is almost nothing the West can grab on to in Syria. It is a dark place, led by a nefarious man capable of exacting enough fear amongst his own people that we will, in all likelihood, have to come to terms with a tragic status quo.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola