İHSAN DAĞI

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İHSAN DAĞI
February 17, 2013, Sunday

Who will topple Assad, and when?

It has been more than two years and the Arab Spring has not yet reached Syria in terms of a regime change. The fight against Bashar al-Assad has been going on without any success. The presence of a strong war machine at the hands of the regime and the use of it against its own citizens without mercy have contributed to the longevity of the regime. Besides the social base of the regime, a weak and disorganized opposition has strengthened the position of the Assad regime. Add the concerns of the locals and international community about “what will be next” and an expectation of continued bloodshed under the rule of the opposition forces -- worsened daily by the reports of the atrocities committed by the opposition forces -- then you will understand the reasons for the current state of affairs in Syria.

What is worse is that no regional or global power seems interested in the fate of the Syrians. The powers, including Turkey, that encouraged opposition against Assad have not provided what they promised, leaving the opposition fighters on their own without much equipment to topple a strongly armed central government. Syria is not a hot topic in Turkey, despite the fact that through cross-border shelling and terrorist acts the situation in the region has turned to be a destabilizing factor in Turkey. It has been understood that Assad may survive longer than expected and thus it is better not to put his departure as a test case for Turkey's foreign policy achievement.

As Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not have the means to induce Assad to step down but to provide the opposition forces with financial funds, many looked to the US to take the leadership to force the Assad regime to go. The inaction of the US administration last year was attributed to the presidential election. Once it is over, many expected the US would move to a tougher position on Syria and on its principal supporters, namely Russia and China, to ensure a transition in Syria.

The US certainly continues to work to put the Syrian opposition in order and try to persuade international supporters of the Syrian regime to stop their backing of Assad. The Obama administration will probably do even more politically and diplomatically in terms of showing its support for the opposition in Syria.

It is known that within the US administration there is a clash of views among those who propose a harder stance against Assad and a non-committed position. But it is important to note that even those who advise a tough line do not propose an active engagement amounting to a direct military intervention in Syria. It is becoming very clear that the US will not militarily engage against the Syrian regime, apart from providing military intelligence to the opposition forces.

It is important to note that President Barack Obama received the highest applause from the members of Congress in his State of the Union address when he promised the return of 34,000 US troops home from Afghanistan within the year. When he declared, “By the end of next year our war in Afghanistan will be over,” the members of Congress were up standing and cheering.

I think the last thing Obama wishes is to engage the US in another conflict in the Middle East. The prevailing mood in the country and Congress, as well as domestic priorities of the US, will not allow Obama to support even via NATO a military operation against the Syrian regime.

Will Assad go eventually? It is becoming very clear that international direct military help is not forthcoming for the opposition forces. Can they overthrow the regime on their own? I am not sure. This coming summer is probably the last challenge for Assad. If he survives the end of this summer, then he may launch a major offensive against the opposition. The outcome depends on the will of the opposition to continue its fight and the weapons it gets from its allies.

Anyway, the result so far has been the destruction of a country and a people.

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