Zakaria: Al-Assad keen on violence, not dialogue
Bashar al-Assad. (Getty Images)
April 9th, 2012
12:00 AM ET

Zakaria: Al-Assad keen on violence, not dialogue

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

In late March, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan persuaded Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to agree to a sensible plan to stop the killing in Syria and start a process of genuine dialogue. Unfortunately, that plans seems highly unlikely to succeed.

That is because the Syrian regime is not fundamentally interested in dialogue with the political opposition. It seeks instead to brutally eradicate that opposition.

Unfortunately, such a strategy can be effective if a government is fully willing to be as brutal as Bashar al-Assad has been.

In this context, it is not clear to me that a plan like Kofi Annan’s could work unless it had some muscle behind it. But there is a limit to what people on the outside can do for Syria.  Syria is not Libya, where the opposition was able to gain geographic control of certain parts of the country, including the key city of Benghazi. Libya had an east-west division that allowed the opposition to coalesce and then retrieve supplies through Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

None of these factors apply in Syria. The Syrian opposition has not been able to create a geographic stronghold and it is therefore difficult to supply that opposition. In this context, it’s hard to see where the muscle needed to force dialogue could come from.

Russia, which has great influence on Syria, is unlikely to put any kind of real pressure on the country. Russia seems to view Syria as its last ally in the Middle East. During the Cold War, Russia had an array of allies in the region. The Middle East was divided between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, that alliance structure broke down. Most of the Soviet allies left the Russian sphere of influence. The Russians are left with Syria, and they are very reluctant to give it up.

America does not have much leverage on the Syrian government via coercion or anything else. So without Russian pressure, it’s difficult to see how Kofi Annan’s diplomacy could work.

Annan’s plan is well intentioned. Annan himself is a very intelligent man. But ultimately you cannot have this kind of diplomacy work without a credible threat of force. And I don’t see a credible threat of force.

I think the reality therefore in Syria is that you’re going to have a low-grade insurgency. The government probably won’t be able to crush the opposition entirely. But it seems highly unlikely that the insurgency will be able to gain much ground.

The one fact that might change this dynamic is that Syria is not an oil-rich country like Iran. Syria does not have vast amounts of money pouring into its coffers every year. It is being supported by Russia and Iran. We don’t know the extent of that support, but it’s quite conceivable that the Syrian government is going to run out of money eventually.

Money is what has allowed Bashar al-Assad to keep the Syrian army and the intelligence apparatus on his side. It has also helped him keep a core element of the Sunni elite from turning against him. If the money flow to Syria slows to a trickle, you might begin to see defections from many of these key groups. This would be a sign that the rats are leaving the sinking ship.

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Topics: Syria

soundoff (366 Responses)
  1. Michael

    lol that picture of al-Assad looks alot like Hitler

    April 23, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  2. NOBEL

    It is not often I am proud of our world. But this time I am. And I am proud of the UN. The peace deal negotiated in Sryia by UN Special Envoy Kifi Annan has to be one of the brightest points in the history of the United Nations, regardless of the outcome.

    Instead of sending 100+ cruise missiles, ostensibly programmed to not kill civillians, to the horrific gangland execution of Muammar Gadaffi in the back of a truck, the Libyan model was a model created and executed in hell, this time it is different. Like giants coming to their senses, the Great Powers are talking before using their clubs.

    At last we have the hawks, NATO, the doves, sitting down at the UN security Council (which I sometimes call the Insecurity Council) and rationally, with extreme self control, attempting to solve a humanitarian crisis through peaceful means.

    Kofi Annan is all but guaranteed the Nobel for his efforts. But I agree that there should be UN peacekeepers behind this effort, and they should be the ones willing to lay their lives down for peace, not the innocent civilians of Syria.

    As for President Assad – maybe it is too late. Maybe he has no choice, this far down the road, maybe self destruction is the only way out. Maybe he does not know the way out. Maybe no-one will tell him. His resignation will bring more chaos, it seems.

    But ask yourselves – how did it come to this? What were the powerful undercurrents and the push and pull of the Tectonics of the Great Powers that brought this about? Could Syria be the child in the middle of a tug of war by its would be adopted parents? Could we doubt that the need for nations to control nations in part is responsible for this?

    Would Kofi Annan have found it easier to prevent this bloodshed if he started 20 years ago? 30 Years ago? Prevention, and prevention is better than any bloody cure.

    We need a vaccine, this time for the deadliest disease of our times, war. A vaccine against war, it is now becoming very late in the day. This is no small pox. This is a plague. I hope we find the vaccine soon, but no-one is working on a vaccine, only antidotes and bad medicines with bad side effects.

    April 24, 2012 at 4:36 am | Reply
  3. Barry G.

    When does Asaad’s war crimes trial begin at the Hague?

    And when does the war crimes trial begin for Assad’s generals and the members of his vicious regime?

    April 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  4. tman

    how many quarans are being desacrated in this conflict and not a peep from any muslim?..... i guess there just waiting for an american to do it so iran and assad can blame the whole uprising on outside forces.....

    April 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  5. chefman

    What do you think would happen in any other country in the world if the people tried to over throw the government?

    April 26, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
  6. Bill Simpson

    What did his dad do with the bodies of all those thousands of people his troops killed 35 years ago. It is hard to get rid of that many bodies.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
  7. .

    Stay out of Syria. It's not our problem.

    April 27, 2012 at 6:48 am | Reply
  8. Barry G.

    When do the war crimes trials begin at the Hague, for Assad, his vicious generals, and the rest of his regime?

    May 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  9. Tr1Xen

    This man needs to be captured and brought to justice. He's a madman murderer who will stop at nothing and will continue to murder his people until he is killed himself,plain and simple.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:27 am | Reply
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