Foreign Affairs Report: Syria in Crisis
Syrian refugee children sit on top of monkey bars at the Al Zaatri
refugee camp in Mafraq. (Ali Jarekji / Courtesy Reuters)
After almost two years of bloodletting in Syria, there is little chance that negotiations of the kind UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been urging would end the conflict. More likely, they would prolong it. And worse, they would perpetuate Bashar al-Assad’s favorite strategy of fanning fears of rebel sectarianism and extremism to dissuade the world from intervening against him.
For several sound reasons, Western decision-makers have up to now rejected the idea of comprehensively arming Syria's opposition. But the facts on the ground have increasingly overrun those arguments, and the case for arming the rebels grows stronger by the month.
As Syria’s civil war drags on, the opposition is scrambling to get its hands on weapons funneled into the country by Gulf states and independent gun-runners. But rival rebel leaders have begun leveraging access to stake out positions in a post-Assad Syria.
After nearly 18 months and some 20,000 dead, Western and Arab governments are still debating the geopolitical pros and cons of intervening in Syria. But inside the country, the opposition has more pressing concerns, from battling the regime to collecting the trash. A report from on the ground in rebel-controlled northern Syria.
As fighting takes place along Syria's central artery running northward from Homs to Idlib, minority Alawites are increasingly setting up shop in a coastal enclave, looking to cordon themselves off from the chaos that they believe will come as President Bashar al-Assad's grip on the country weakens.
A onetime high-ranking Syrian Army officer on the state of the revolt in Syria.
Foreign Affairs Managing Editor Jonathan Tepperman moderates a discussion with authors Shadi Hamid and Robert Malley on the Arab Spring one year later.
In February 1982, Hafez al-Assad put down a rebellion in the city of Hama by his Islamist opponents. Three decades later his son faced down a similar rebellion in Homs. These two events were remarkably similar -- both Hafez and Bashar believed they were wrestling not only with internal dissent but with a large-scale American and Israeli conspiracy.
In 1982, the United States said very little about Hafez al-Assad's shelling of Hama and no one suggested that the United States intervene. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Washington is willing to speak out against Bashar al-Assad's crackdown in Homs, but is not yet willing to send in troops.
Terrible rulers, sullen populations, a terrorist fringe -- the Arabs' exceptionalism was becoming not just a human disaster but a moral one. Then, a frustrated Tunisian fruit vendor summoned his fellows to a new history, and millions heeded his call. The third Arab awakening came in the nick of time, and it may still usher in freedom.
More and more outsiders are calling for a humanitarian intervention in Syria to stop Bashar al-Assad's killing sprees. But for this to work, Syria's various opposition groups will have to first coalesce into a single, unified political and military force.
With Bashar al-Assad's regime on the brink of collapse, Hezbollah stands to lose a close ally. And by supporting Damascus' repression, the organization has compromised its reputation in a region gripped by anti-autocratic fervor. Given that, an off-balance Hezbollah may well shift gears, focusing less on its regional ambitions and more on domestic Lebanese politics.
When violence first erupted in Syria, the EU responded carefully, using sanctions to target members of Assad's government in Damascus. Since, European officials have ditched those concerns and moved toward heavy, or comprehensive, sanctions. The problem is that they will hurt the Syrian people more than the regime.
Throughout the year, Assad relied on Iran and Russia to block international intervention, hoping to buy time to quash the protests without interference. It's not working -- but he has no other options.
Michael Bröning, Tony Badran, and Mara E. Karlin and Andrew J. Tabler on the increasingly brutal crackdown in Syria, the durability of the Assad regime and what, if anything, the United States can do to bring the crisis to a peaceful end.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may blame Israel for his problems, but the Israelis are more ambivalent about their sometime antagonist. Yet with little ability to affect the outcome of the uprisings, Jerusalem can only watch nervously as events unfold.
According to many observers, Syria's Bashar al-Assad was supposed to be immune to the kind of popular protest that swept the country today. Ironically, the basis was Assad’s own public relations strategy. With no real legitimacy, his only resort to stop the protests will be violence.
This article appears in the Foreign Affairs/CFR eBook, The New Arab Revolt.