Contrary to general perception that the Syrian crises started in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring, a protest movement of the people in several Middle Eastern countries against their oppressive, non-representative dictatorial regimes. May be true in some instances but not in case of Syria.
In an interview done in 2005 by CNN, Christiane Amanpour tells Assad about the intentions of regime change that the US had, and how the US was working with the Syrian opposition to remove Assad. Their time came in 2011 when the Arab Spring started and the USA and its Western and regional allies in the middle east put in their best efforts to dislodge Bashar ul Assad.
Very few people expected him to survive long. Several commentators predicted his downfall in a few weeks. However, after a decade of bloodshed, millions of dead, wounded, internally displaced homeless persons and refugees notwithstanding the immeasurable loss of private property and public infrastructure, Assad is still there.
How come he survived the full onslaught of the super power of the day and its allies? This essay is an attempt to answer this question
The Syrian crises will soon be entering their 10th year, with no hope of its early resolution. With millions of dead, wounded, internally displaced homeless persons and refugees notwithstanding the immeasurable loss of private property and public infrastructure, it is indeed a pathetic reminder of what happens to the people and the region which are perceived to be geopolitically and economically vital for the pursuit of national interests of global and regional powers.
Those were the hey days of the Arab Spring when the anti-Assad movement started in Syria. Very few people expected him to survive long, particularly when the USA and its allies openly started demanding his removal. In 2014 a time came when his position became extremely precarious. Several commentators predicted his downfall in a few weeks. But he survived.
Why Assad has been successful so far in holding on? Several reasons.
- Support of the People:
If he represents only 15% of the population as propaganda machinery says, then why 85% of the Syrian population which makes the bulk of the Syrian armed forces, rank and file, did not throw him out? And that too when all the material, financial, intelligence and human support has been available to those opposing him? Waiting for the regime to collapse under pressure, USA, Saudi Arabia and other client states of USA in Middle East provided financial assistance, diplomatic support through Arab League and religious backing to the rebels—a repeat of Afghan Jihad. Similarly, Israel being the biggest beneficiary of the present Syrian crises whether these are resolved or not, also provided all the necessary financial, material and intelligence assistance to the anti-Assad forces in the conflict. Why all these efforts of the USA and its allies miserably failed.
Reason is very simple. We may not like to believe; Syrian people were behind Assad not out of any love for him but for very pragmatic reasons. After witnessing what happened to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, they realised that alternative to Assad was deluge. Yes, people do want empowerment, but they want security of life and safety of their property first. They know that in the event of regime change it will be state collapse and the Raj of the footloose mercenaries. USA will just go back like they always do after their misadventure and leave the people in the lurch. And what will the mercenaries do to them is any body’s guess.
Building on this popular fear of the future in the wake of his ouster, Assad has been successful in holding on. He has dug in with the help of internal tribal alliances, staunch support of minorities like the Christians, Druze and the Alawites and the extreme loyalty of the Syrian armed forces. Contrary to the popular perceptions created by the Axis (NATO/Israel/Saudi Arabia), Syrian security apparatus although heavily dominated by the Sunnis, are still loyal to him.
Keep in mind the Security establishment of Syrian government is headed by a Sunni (Ali Mamlouk). Yes, Alawites are also there but so are the Christians and the Druze and a few Jews also. In fact, a war which goes on and on without any clear gains or losses to any of the stakeholders creates war weariness among the population and the business elite That is what has happened-people are just fed up with the ongoing decline in economic activities and of course daily killings without any result.
Consequently, despite the defection of some senior officers and hundreds of its foot-soldiers in the first two years of the conflict, the core Syrian security forces remain very much intact, staunchly loyal and more determined to crush the enemies of Syria-internal or external. That is why the foreign sponsored rebels have thus far failed to make any major dent in the political support Assad enjoys of the influential sections of society and the tribes.
- Support of the Nexus
He has been fortunate that Gaddafi met the fate that he deserved but it forced Russia and China to flock to the help of Assad to avoid the repeat of the Libyan fiasco. While China is providing diplomatic assistance to Assad, it is Russia and Iran which are supplying him with all the necessary wherewithal—intelligence, weapons and finance. Iran is also assisting him with physical support through Hezbollah
On the one hand and encouraging Kurds to outflank Turkey on the other. Of course, they are not doing it for any altruistic motives; their unflinching support of the Assad regime is based on hard calculation that with the ouster of Assad, their vital interests will be affected not only in the region but globally. Russia will lose its Tartus naval base and with that its maneuverability of its naval fleet will be jeopardized. All these rebels will be let loose in the soft belly of Russia and similar regime change dramas will be enacted in the security zone of Russia.
Similarly, China knows what holds for it in the wake of complete domination of the Middle East by the USA and its allies. Iran will be the biggest loser in this game that is why it has not only provided diplomatic and financial support but also the human sacrifices necessary for propping up the regime.
- Lukewarm Involvement of USA:
Assad has been lucky so far in another sense- despite all the pressure from the Anti-Assad Middle Eastern states, USA and NATO did not go for full scale war to forcibly remove him by sending their troops in Syria. The USA overtly said that it would not get directly involved in Syria unless the Assad regime crossed the red line of using chemical weapons. However, it didn’t and avoided doing so even when there was a big hype created in the western media about use of chemical weapons by Assad.
If the US had desired to intervene with boots on ground in Syria, it would have done it like they did in Iraq when they used the smoking gun excuse against Saddam because it wanted to attack Iraq at any cost. There were several reasons for this calculated reluctance on the part of USA and her allies.
- Firstly, it would have resulted in full scale war which may bog the USA down for a year or so, delaying their plans to cut Iran to size, the last hurdle in their grand strategy of controlling Middle East through proxies and pygmies.
- Secondly, they are also mindful of the fact that a third war front against an Arab state will not go well with their allies in the Middle East, turning many of the footloose Jihadists against NATO forces, instead of their cooperation in war against Iran.
- Thirdly, USA does not want to get involved in the messy politics of Middle East where its economic interests are slowly but gradually becoming less than strategic after the shale gas bonanza at home.
- Fourthly, the domestic war fatigue, financial resource crunch and logistic difficulties of opening a new war front while it is retreating from Afghanistan gives us a fair idea of why USA is reluctant to use force to eliminate Assad.
- Disunity/lack of Strategy among Rebels:
While Assad and his backers were united in defending Syrian state and society, the opposition was divided on narrow regional, national and tribal lines. There was no common cause except to remove Assad which could not find favour with the people. Every stakeholder on the opposition camp had its own agenda and were backing diverse groups and using different proxies and employing different strategies. While the rebel fighting forces were overwhelmingly drawn from Syria’s Sunni Arab population, their respective commanders were foreign trained and financed mercenaries.
Having no overall political leadership and command and control mechanism, there was no coherent military strategy to guide the rebels. Every local commander was making his own decisions at local level which were at cross-purposes with one another. Even the Kurds, who would have gained maximum in successful outcome of the Syrian crises, were divided into two antagonistic groups. Rise of the ISIS was a God send opportunity for the Assad regime as it could retain the loyalty of its supporters by highlighting the atrocities of the so-called Islamic fighters.
- Regional and International Strategic Rivalries:
Right from the start, Syrian crises became zone of two overlapping cold wars. Firstly, it is a Global cold war between USA and its allies on the one side and Russia and its allies on the other. Secondly, it is a Regional cold war mimicking the above but with their regional surrogates. Assad was lucky and he took full advantage of the situation. Russia provided him intelligence along with air support and sophisticated armaments, China supported it with finances and diplomatic support while Iran came with its fidayeens to bolster him at the most critical moment. After Libyan fiasco both China and Russia vetoed any move to declare Syria a No-Fly Zone or remove Assad as a precondition for peace negotiations. Their insistence that Iran is necessary party in any peace negotiations was the biggest hurdle for any peace plan to go ahead.
From the book “ The Syrian Crises: Past, Present , and Future” by Shahid Hussain Raja/Omar H. Raja