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The Fall of the House of Assad

Nov 28, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 11 • By LEE SMITH
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Before the Alawites came to power, Syria was ruled by a succession of Sunni governments that fell in coups and countercoups, some engineered by outside forces, others merely the natural result of domestic rivalry between various centers of Sunni power. That is to say, while Islamists are undoubtedly going to have a role in a post-Assad Syria, they are going to have a lot of competition. Among others, there are the military leaders, including those who’ve already defected from the army, as well as the Sunni merchant class, which itself is split into rival branches, most famously between Damascus and Aleppo. Then there are the tribal leaders, who tend to take a dim view of Islamists or those absolutely devoted to a religious faith that specifically challenged the authority of the tribes.

The administration cannot imagine a post-Assad Syria because its vision is obscured by a post-Saddam Iraq. The Obama White House wants to avoid the sectarian bloodshed that split Baghdad. More than anything else, it wants to steer clear of anything that smacks of George W. Bush. Accordingly, the administration has petitioned the opposition to stay peaceful and include minorities in the Sunni-majority movement. A White House wary of Bush-style nation building has taken on the role of opposition building.

It’s too late for that. The opposition already exists on the ground. Administration spokesmen have perversely tried to discourage the opposition from taking up arms. It will only play into the regime’s hands, said a White House spokesman. It will cost the peaceful opposition international support.

It appears that it doesn’t matter to the Syrian opposition that they can only win Washington’s affection by extending their necks willingly to the regime’s executioners. They’re already fighting. A recent report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies explains that the Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors from the Syrian military, estimates that there are already 17,000 men under arms, operating out of Turkey and, of all places, Lebanon, the Damascus regime’s terror lab. According to the report, the FSA’s leaders will call for more defections—as soon as the international community implements a no-fly zone. That’s the one move the White House has right now. Time to make it.

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