By Ali Younes
Ever since the beginning of the crises in Syria that started last March in the southern city of Deraa President Bashaar Al Assad seemed not to be able to grasp the enormity of the events that are taking place in his country. From the very beginning, Al Assad and his inner circle decided to use maximum amount of force to crush the protesters in Deraa in its infancy and in order to cow the rest of the citizens into submission.
To his surprise, using brute force and killing innocent people seemed to be working the other way around. Indeed protests spread to other cities and Al Assad along with his brother and other Baath party leaders are now facing international scrutiny. While international pressure of condemnations and sanctions are mounting, it is clear that Al Assad is getting knee-deep in Syria’s quicksand that the more he tries to come out of it, the deeper he sinks in.
Given Al Assad’s dangerous predicament, President Barack Obama has positioned the American policy toward Syria in a win-win situation, with or without Al Assad in power. One clue about the American strategy toward Syria is its reluctance to withdraw its recently appointed ambassador there, Robert Ford. Moreover, judging from the language Obama used in his May 19 speech about Syria in which he remarked that “President Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”
It is unclear, however, how Al Assad, who presides over a totalitarian regime that stifles any impulse of democracy or prospect of civil liberties, will lead a transition to democracy. In other words, Obama called on Assad to switch from dictatorship to democracy which in itself implies stepping down from power or “to get out of the way” which is an unlikely prospect.
If Al Assad eventually succeeds in crushing the citizens-rebellion –which remains a probability at this point- and was able somehow to pacify the restive cities, he will come out of it severely weakened, isolated and vulnerable. He will find himself in a situation similar to that of Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Invasion of Kuwait, during which Hussein was subjected to crippling sanctions and international isolation that ultimately led to his demise. From the perspective of American strategic planners a weak and vulnerable Assad will be useful to the US objectives in the region in several areas.
As such Al Assad will be more motivated by his survival instincts to compromise on issues that he for long used to leverage against the US and its Arab allies in the region.
The US and its allies, as a result, will push a crippled and isolated Assad to compromise (or even sacrifice) his relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, and more importantly Iran. Removing the Syrian pressure valve from Hamas will push Hamas to flexibility with its nemesis the Palestinian Authority (PA). As for Hezbollah, a weak Assad will deliver it a severe blow to its standing within the Lebanese body-politics, and will deprive it from its key life-line in the event of a regional war with Israel.
But the key prize for the US when strategizing how it should deal with Al Assad is Iran. If Assad can be convinced to give up his alliance with Iran in exchange of allowing him and his Baath regime to remain in power, it will be major victory for the US against Iran. Iran in this case will lose its key and only Arab ally and therefore will be pushed toward the negotiation table over its nuclear program.
According to this scenario, moreover, Al Assad will be more enthusiastic to sign a peace treaty with Israel that will be more favorable to Israel. Israel will in this case agree to give him parts of the Golan Heights while other parts including a buffer zone inside the Syrian territory will be demilitarized along the lines of the 1975 Sinai agreement with Egypt.
The other winning scenario, from an American perspective, will be if the current revolt succeeded in toppling Al Assad from power in which case the new Syria will look much different than Syria under the Baath and Al Assad family rule. The leaders of the new Syria will be in no mood to reconstruct the old alliances Al Assad family had used for decades, chiefly to ensure its own survival; rather, they will be more concerned with reconstructing the country on more democratic basis. Obama will in this case -as he mentioned in his May 19 speech at the State Department- provide financial and political support to ensure financial stability, promote reform, and integrate the emerging Arab democracies into the international economy.”
– Ali Younes is a writer and US policy analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: [email protected]