Regime Change in Syria

Here’s hoping the Arab spring lasts a little longer so there is time for flowers to bloom in Syria. Regime change in Syria would be a good thing, and it looks like a real possibility. Last week the Arab League decided to suspend Syria’s membership, and to sanction President Assad for his acts of violence. The sense that the Syrian regime is failing to meet the expectations of its people is growing. The list of killed gets longer and human rights group discovered the bodies of 19 people kidnapped. The Syrian government is beginning to panic albeit slightly because they have recently released detainees as a humanitarian effort, including the well-known political activist.

The question becomes what is the next step. Some suggest a Libyan style intervention but the conditions on the ground are sufficiently different to make it unlikely. Other ideas include asking Syria to withdraw its armed forces from various communities, release more political prisoners, and meet with activists to try to solve contentious issues. Still other ideas suggest the UN intervention and the recall of foreign ambassadors.

All of these are a sort of first step which will probably lead to very little change. For now, Syria is requesting meetings with the Arab League mostly in an effort to stall for time. What is particularly incendiary is the fact that most of the Syrian population is Sunni while Syria is closely associated with Shiite Iran. A post Assad government should represent the majority Sunnis but no one expects Iran to tolerate such a representation. Any real transition for the Syrian government will confront the threat of the Muslim brotherhood and the rise of Muslim political parties.

It is too early to start making plans for a new government in Syria. As of now, the rare Arab consensus that led to Syria’s suspension from the Arab League is probably the most hopeful possibility. The decision by the Arab League is a direct confrontation with Assad and can be used for significant pressure. Even though Arab officials have held firmly and claim that their censure is no idle threat, there remains a strong tradition in this area of the world that would discourage any military engagement and surely back off of any direct intervention. This means that the United States will have to take the lead in destabilizing Syria but this also will not be on the White House’s agenda.

Syria is no friend of the United States, except with regard to formal international relations, and has spent its share of time espousing harsh words for the US and the West. But its big brother Iran is an even greater threat. It’s time to see the two of them in tandem. Iran is a world leader in exporting terrorism, is associated with Al Qaeda, and now we have discovered they plotted terrorist attacks on US soil, not to mention their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Confronting Syria and forcing significant change can be a precursor to challenging Iran in a significant manner. Syria has little choice but to continue trying to quash protests but represent itself as a legitimate government. Assad’s competence is increasingly in question in Syria is increasingly isolated. This is a potentially combustible mixture.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on November 16, 2011, in Communication and Conflict Resolution. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Regime Change in Syria.

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