In the Event of an All-Out Conflict in Syria who stands to Gain?

August 8, 2012

Is the Syrian civil war going to spiral into an all-out conflict? If the West decides to become involved beyond offering tertiary support as it is doing now, and if war envelopes Syria with the government on one side and Western backed rebels on the other, who will fill the vacuum? If the Assad government falls, will radical Islamists take centre-stage thereby worsening Syria’s predicament and forestalling democracy? Will the United States use the insuing vacuum to pressure the Iranians even further into making concessions on the nuclear program?

What is unclear is how far the West is prepared to go to insure Assad’s downfall.

Many within the rebel movement are increasingly frustrated by what they see as a lack of resolve by the United States other than offering more than just words of encouragement. While the United States eventually pushed for and was successful in having a no-fly zone over Libya implemented months after that conflict started, the United States has been noticeably absent in the Syrian conflict.

A spokesman with a Free Syrian Army battalion told the Washington Post, “America will pay a price for this,” Yasser Abu Ali said. “America is going to lose the friendship of Syrians, and no one will trust them anymore. Already we don’t trust them at all.”

Assad’s Failures

Assad’s repeated failures to implement promised reforms and resorting to repression, including gross human rights abuses have aggravated an already volatile situation. The daily massacres by both the rebels and Assad’s forces pose a challenge to our collective conscience. How can one remain silent in the face of such events?

It has compelled the United States and its allies to offer non-lethal aid to the rebels, and the West’s regional allies in the Middle East have offered financial as well as military aid to the Free Syrian Army, the largest and most significant rebel group operating in Syria. The Syrian rebels were obviously buoyed by the defection of Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab.

However, while his defection was hailed by Western governments and by the rebels, the fact that the former prime minister is a Sunni Muslim reinforces the belief that Assad’s core group of supporters will remain by his side, because they are Alawites.

Assad erred in believing that he simply could ride out the storm and remain in power without a significant opposition movement gunning for his departure.

Is a Solution still Possible?

Is it too late to try for a political solution? Many would argue that Syria has reached a tipping point and is past a point of no return because the United Nations failed to broker a cease fire.

By announcing at the very beginning of the revolt that Assad had to go, this made the search for a political solution a nonstarter. Political divisions within the UN Security Council have made that institution irrelevant.

“At a time when we need – when the Syrian people desperately need action – there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the security council,” Kofi Annan said when announcing his resignation as the UN special envoy.

Assad’s Dilemma

Against this backdrop, what are the options facing President Assad? Either he steps down and seeks asylum elsewhere, which is unlikely or he continues his teneous hold onto power and unleashes his military to finish off the rebels. Until now, while his military has battled the rebels, he seemingly has been reluctant to confront the rebels with the brunt force of his military.

There is evidence that Assad is positioning a significant portion of his military on the outskirts of Aleppo in a bid to finally dislodge the rebels.

With the UN Charter stipulating that outside intervention is a non-starter unless there is unanimity on the Security Council, the rebels are essentially on their own unless an agreement can be reached within the Security Council.

Post-Assad

If the Assad government falls what will a new governmnet look like? Its not at all clear. Even now the rebels are a conglomarate of different factions with Islamists making up a portion of the rebel movment including Al Qaeda elements.

The dilemma facing the West is that if they truly want Assad to fall they will have to become more involved to insure his downfall which would include funneling lethal weapons to them and possibly pursuing a Libyan style no-fly zone to give the rebels ample cover from Assad’s Russian made helicopter gunships.

Unlike Egypt where Morsi became Egypt’s president as the result of largely fair and free elections, the next Syrian government, post-Assad, will be the result of bloodshed and tears. It is clear that a new Syrian government will be sectarian but will it be of the variety that will be willing to cooperate with the West.

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