The man in charge of America's intelligence gathering said that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad will inevitably collapse in the face of mounting protests, and it's simply a matter of time before his regime falls.
Of course, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had to admit that "matter of time" remains anyone's guess. However, opposition remains "resilient," ready and willing to heap increasing amounts of pressure on embattled president Bashar al-Assad.
"Protraction of these demonstrations, the opposition continues to be fragmented, but I do not see how [Assad] can sustain his rule of Syria."
Fair enough. However, commentary on the Syrian crisis is regularly, and casually imprecise when it comes to pitting the government and its devotees against a spectral opposition. This has been the case across the breadth of Arab Spring, whether in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere. The one thing Syrian opposition groups have in common is a shared revulsion to the illiberal and illegitimate Ba'ath party dictatorship, and its Alawite brass (To clarify, "Alawite" refers to the minority Shi'a sect of the Assad family that dominates Syria's political and security infrastructure). Beyond that, long-run political and ideological commitments vary broadly. More importantly, these differences far outstrip superficial disagreements between securalists and Islamists we gloss over in the western media.
For those who are interested in an excellent breakdown of varying opposition forces in Syria, have a look at Andrew Spath's breakdown, over at the Foreign Policy Research Institute -- an institution near and dear to yours truly, where I once helped out as research assistant to legendary president, Dr. Harvey Sicherman.
Regardless of the "opposition" forces that form the resulting government, it's a safe bet that the fall of the Assad regime would prove a major blow to Iran, which relies on Syria as a conduit to its Hizbullah proxies in Lebanon.
Since the rise of the secular Ba'ath party in Syrian and Shi'a theocracy in Iran, analysts and academics have questioned whether these two regimes were bound by a sense of shared faith…or fate. A significant portion of the Sunni majority opposition believes that the rule of an Alawi Shi'a is the rule of this disbeliever -- the same conviction that has fired insurrection since the February '82 massacre at Hama, and remains at the heart of this crisis. My best guess is that decades of Iranian clientelism and the scorched earth elimination of peaceful protest (as assisted by Tehran) has not softened objection to Shi'a dominance in this predominantly Sunni state, whether Twelver (as practiced in Iran) or Allawite.
Oddly enough, if patchwork opposition succeeds in dislodging Assad in Syria, the U.S. might finally welcome a more friendly Arab regime from the ashes of Arab Spring. For the moment, there's little to do but wait and see…
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