May 3, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

The Syrian Business (or Friedman part II)

This post is much delayed, but I didn’t want to miss the chance to continue the Friedman-palooza trend that I had agreed on with my esteemed colleague here. So I must comment on Thomas Friedman’s other piece that captured our attention this past week, this time about Syria and Lebanon.

Friedman makes two points: in one, he compares Syria’s Assad with Lebanon’s Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Hezbollah, who are allies. Then, he goes deeper into the Syrian issue and warns that the longer the conflict takes to be resolved the more dangerous and unstable the next government will be (assuming Assad falls).

Outside of his specific group of followers, whose loyalty is basically assured by sect membership, Assad seems to be the target of a regional hatred that grows by the day. According to Friedman, that hatred is spilling over to his allies, such as Nasrallah, as well. Not only it is very unpopular to be on the side of a dictator murdering his people to avoid relinquishing power, but comparisons are rising. “Assad and Nasrallah have long called themselves “the resistance” to Israel, using that to build their legitimacy and to justify arming themselves against their own people. What is stunning to me is how much their masks have now been ripped off by their own people”, says Friedman. It is getting more costly to remain silent on atrocities committed in Syria, and one must wonder how long it will take for the cost to get so high that Assad will be finally abandoned. If we are optimistic, either that happens or allies pay a heavier price, becoming targets of revolt themselves.

The thing is, Assad was successful in turning the resistance into a violent civil war with sectarian overtones, and things are that much more complicated now. If he falls tomorrow, it is very likely that whoever takes his place will have more in mind in terms of power distribution than merely ensuring a democratic transition.

“The bloodier and more sectarian the fight to depose Assad gets, the more deformed, violent and Islamist-dominated the post-Assad regime will likely be — and the more the civil war there will spread to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan or Iraq. That is why just arming the Syrian opposition and standing back is a bad idea”, affirms the author.

It all goes to cool off hopes, if they still exist, of a nice transition in this decade. But that is how it goes –transitions are messy businesses, and the best we can do at this point is try not make it worse. I’m not so sure we are doing that right now.

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1 Comment

  • I’m not sure “we” (the international community) can do much to make it easier. Assad has every incentive to fight to the last man. If he falls from power, he loses everything and has a good chance of wining up dead and/or in jail for the rest of his life. One thing “we” could do is give him a credible commitment of freedom and immunity in return for stepping down. This is a bitter pill for many to swallow, however.

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