Even if Assad wins, he has already lost

Posted By Mona Yacoubian  Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Six weeks into Syria‘s unprecedented unrest, it seems increasingly apparent that the key cornerstones buttressing President Bashar al Assad‘s regime — iron-fisted rule and geostrategic depth — may be irreparably damaged. While estimates are nearly impossible to confirm, the regime’s ruthless repression has reportedly left more than 500 dead. Yet, ongoing demonstrations signal that the “wall of fear” inside Syria is crumbling. Meanwhile, the regime’s crackdown is leading to Syria’s deepening isolation, undercutting its ability to leverage its role as a critical player in the region. Taken together, these developments suggest that the Assad regime may not be salvageable in the long run. It may withstand the current unrest, but the brutal tactics required to quell the demonstrations have not only destroyed any shred of legitimacy at home, but will also preempt any possibility of Western engagement. In seeking to preserve itself, the regime is laying the foundations for its ultimate undoing.

Syria is not Tunisia or Egypt. The regime’s unraveling will not occur over days or weeks with relatively limited violence. Nor is there a Syrian “Tahrir Square” or CNN’s Anderson Cooper covering the events as the world cheers on the protestors. Syria’s transformation will be far messier, marked by significant bloodshed and violence, and without the benefit of the international news media’s bright lights helping to protect the protestors. There may be little the international community can do to shape the outcome. It will not likely end for months, quite possibly much longer.

To date, there are only limited signs that the unrest has gained critical momentum. Syria’s uprising has centered in the countryside, starting in the sleepy southern border town of Dera’a and moving to the coastal cities of Banias and Latakia. But the unrest has not rocked Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city and a stronghold of the Sunni merchant class. Nor has the capital Damascus witnessed huge protests in the tens of thousands. Despite unconfirmed reports of splits within the military, the Syrian army still appears intact and willing to obey orders….

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