Pressure valve off in al-Assad's Syria
July 13th, 2012
07:34 AM ET

Pressure valve off in al-Assad's Syria

By Fareed Zakaria

Over the past sixteen months of bloody conflict in Syria, observers have been waiting for one key development: top-level defections from within President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. Suddenly, it seems a pressure valve has gone off. Pilots, ambassadors, and even one general have defected. What does it mean?

The general is Manaf Tlas, a childhood friend of Assad, and an officer in the elite Republican Guard.

Tlas’s father was chief of staff and then minister of defense, for 30 years, under Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad. This is as close to the top of the Syrian regime as you might get. That’s why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took special note of Tlas.

“If people like him, and like the generals and colonels and others who have recently defected to Turkey are any indication, regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet,” she said.

But there are some crucial caveats. Tlas hadn’t been a member of al-Assad’s inner circle for a while – he had actually been under house arrest for more than a year.

Also, he was high ranking, but he wasn’t an Alawite. While Alawites make up only 12% of Syria’s population, they hold more than 80% of the positions in the powerful Republican Guard. They are the inner circle. According to some reports, when Sunnis are put on guard duty, there’s always an Alawite soldier assigned to monitor the Sunni soldiers.

Related: Reports of new massacre

But if the increasing number of top-level defections is a signal that the Sunni elite, which is comprised of generals, businessmen, bureaucrats and which has so far stuck with al-Assad, is now moving away from him, that’s a huge shift – and one that will ultimately bring down the regime.

There’s mounting evidence that the Sunnis are weakening in their support for the al-Assad regime. We’ve spoken with a former U.S. Marine Austin Tice. He’s now a law student and spending the summer reporting from Syria. On a recent embed with a rebel group, he said he found that the government’s helicopters flew so high that they couldn’t really aim their  missiles; he also said he saw first-hand how hostile fire from al-Assad’s tanks and troops were poorly aimed and seemingly random. The suspicion among many rebels at the time, Tice says, was that the predominantly Sunni pilots and soldiers were deliberately missing their targets.

Related: A deluded elite in Syria?

Another telling indicator of dissent is the number of silent objectors in the army. According to the New York Times, a growing number of Syrian soldiers – many of whom lack the means to flee – are staying home. But to ensure their continued silence and neutrality, these officers continue to draw salaries and pensions.

Money is the main reason to believe that al-Assad's regime cannot last. Inflation is said to be as high as 30%. According to some reports, al-Assad and his cronies are freely printing money; the Syrian pound has depreciated against the dollar by more than half on the black market. Meanwhile, the regime is running out of cash. Ninety percent of Syria’s oil used to go to the European Union, but sanctions have put a stop to that. Tourism and trade have of course plummeted. And monetary support from Iran cannot be counted on indefinitely – Tehran itself is buckling under unprecedented sanctions.

And there was a report last week that Iran is weakening in its support for al-Assad. An Iranian ambassador gave an interview in a Tehran paper criticizing his government’s support for the Syrian regime and saying that al-Assad’s days were obviously numbered.

But there's one more piece to the puzzle – the growing strength of Syria’s opposition. The Free Syria Army is getting stronger. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now openly arming the rebels, channeling through routes from Turkey, Lebanon, and now even Iraq. Rebel attacks have become more focused, running deeper into the two main cities Damascus and Aleppo. The various opposition groups are coming together to plan for a post-Assad Syria.

The question then is, what would such a Syria look like?

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET

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soundoff (744 Responses)
  1. ed

    I can care less.
    Let those Idiot muslms kill each other.
    Who cares?

    July 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  2. Ed

    Assad is a War Criminal of the worst kind and he should be dealt accordingly.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat


      July 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  3. xfiler93

    He will hang on as long as Russia, Iran and China want him. plenty of more innocent kids to slaughter. they dont want to waste this perfect opportunity.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  4. Black Infidel

    Off with saed's head. ASSADS time is coming soon

    July 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  5. Anna

    Assad will stay as long as Putin wants him too – easy

    July 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  6. josep

    Do u have running water?

    July 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  7. Lilo

    Its so easy to just go with the flow whatever the western media states must be the truth, NOT! I am currently living in Syria all is not as seems a majority of the Syrian people are behind this president. But unfortunately the west does not want the world to know this. The truth is 3 of i believe 13 states in Syria are home to a majority of the so called resistance. The rest of the states including Damascus and Allepo (who's population combined is more than half of the Syrian population) are supporters of this government. Now the fundamental principals of a democracy is majority rules if a majority of Syrians want this president who in the west has the right to ask him to resign? To make this simple if New York, California and New Hampshire do not want President Obama as president and ask him to resign should he? If he refuses should they take up arms against the government and start terrorist campaigns in the United States? If they did wouldn't the US use its armed forces to impose law and order back to its streets? Of course they would and for you out there who doubt this remember the LA riots? I believe do remember seeing US soldiers on the streets of LA .

    July 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Reply
    • Johnathan

      This may be news to you LILO but we are fully aware that Muslims lie-it is in their Qu’ran and therefore second nature to them. I do not even believe that you live in Syria, never mind anything else you may have to say. You and your people do not know the meaning of “truth”.
      Regardless of this, even if only three states out of 13 disagree with the current government, do you not think that something could and should be done to appease them? These people should be brought into the fold instead of murdering and butchering them and their children. Assad's methods are barbaric.

      July 15, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
  8. Darrell

    Good luck with that.......If you can somehow manage to get by or military, remember Americans have more guns than any other country in the world! I would feel bad for your towel headed people trying to come here to do anything to us. Hell....there are more guns in Detroit alone than you have in your entire country!

    July 14, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  9. Richard Diamond

    No matter how inane and "out in right field" the arguments are of ANY writer, calling names, using ad hominem arguments are proof that the detractors of such a person have nothing to contribute than name-calling. That's similar to a few 12 year old's yelling at each other and saying nothing. If saeed is wrong, prove it with evidence, not name calling.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • Johnathan

      When can someone be called stupid, ignorant, witless, foolish, clueless, oblivious… that is the conundrum? Let’s take Saeed or his alter ego JAL. At what point can he be declared stupid, an idiot, a bigot, an hebete, a balourd, a sot? Do we go back to his birth and try to find out if he was dropped on his head at birth? Do we blame his parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents and the whole tribe of Abraham? If his dog is stupid, untrainable, is it its fault or is it that it did not get proper training from a witless, stupid, ignorant, clueless, heartless, uneducated moron. What about his sheep—oh forget it. To apply descriptivism to a situation or not is a difficult decision.

      July 15, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
  10. outawork

    Until they put the noose around his neck. And then a little more.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Reply
  11. Jiba

    Need solid English skills to understand this piece of junk.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  12. Richard Diamond

    Does anyone realize that the Alawites are the bridge in the Middle East between Christianity and Islam? They fought on the side of the Crusaders in the First Crusade. They celebrate Christmas and Easter. They drink wine in church ceremony similar to the wine at confession in Christian churches. They also incorporate Zorastrianism in their faith and that Persian religion predates Jewish, Islamic and Christian religions. They are brutal and horrible. I give that, but what do you think will happen when the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, the Wahabis and Alqueda take over? What of all the Shiites then? Has anyone considered the "Day After" Assad is killed? Think about it.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  13. Face

    Not until we baptize the Middle East with nuclear fire in the name of Jesus.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
    • Johnathan

      The only one who is consistently creating havoc is ALLAH!

      July 15, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply
  14. Brian monosso

    Kiss it Assad, you will have a single shot_between_the eyes soon. See ya later bye.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:25 am | Reply
  15. SAWolf

    Typical muslim, lower than whale poop.

    July 15, 2012 at 3:01 am | Reply
  16. Brandon

    The sheer ignorance displayed in these comments here is almost overwhelming. Its unfortunate that in 2012 there are still those that are content justifying death with religious doctrine. I don't care who you are; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever, YOUR PERSONAL BELIEFS TO NOT JUSTIFY KILLING OTHER PEOPLE! Nevertheless you will all find truth in the end, and that truth is such that the most simple explanation is probably correct... there is nothing after this life but a return to the earth, so all your religious "struggles" will have been in vain.

    There is so much in this life, on this earth, in the hearts of the human race to be thankful for. Yet you squander this wonderful opportunity at consciousnesses, on anger and hatred. Consider that is little more than your insecurity and lack of understanding of the world around you. If you want to be truly happy, just live for yourself and stop trying to convince the world that you are more important than you truly are. Your ego's will be your downfall.

    July 15, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • mattt


      July 15, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Reply
  17. Joe

    Syria is a pillar of liberty and democracy, by default, as no military intervention is planned by US-led good guys. So Assad must not be too bad, right ? He also doesn't have too much oil, so his actions against his own populace are of no consequence to righteous Americans.

    July 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Edict

      Your idiot friends Lilo and Fredsta seem to think highly of Assad. Neither one of you three stooges has mentioned Shabiha, WHY?

      July 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  18. Purush

    Assad needs to understand that his days of ruling Syria are over. The earlier he goes the better are his chances of people giving him some positive (only some) in their memory, history treating him a wee bit positively and he being able to remain alive (he is currently just about 50 or so). The more he delays the more he is making sure that his name goes down in history as a despot and that he dies a hunted person.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  19. Jan Michell

    You should do a story on "Syrian Girl". She has a huge following but is very misguided on her govt.

    July 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  20. zedeislam

    You are out of your mind , and stupid. You don't even know the issue of discussion ! No wonder who is Assad's supporters!!!!!!!!

    July 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  21. dubm

    Go lowest ratings CNN EVER!

    Amazing leaders we have in this world, letting tragedy after tragedy just keep on keeping on. Obama is OUT in 2012 – thank GOD!-

    July 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Reply
    • dubm

      Sorry, I meant Allahuakbart.

      July 16, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  22. Alfredo

    Assad has continued the long Muslim tyrant tradition of treating their own population like garbage. Bashar Assad however has take this to a new level of genocide. Assad and his Alawite elite are digging their own graves when the Sunni majority destroys them and Damascus...

    July 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  23. lsn2me

    for many men, bent on self-destruction, the addiction to power, in my opinion, is a daddy complex that will never be satiated. the obsession with " power", i believe, is an attempt to get the approval and love that daddy never gave and will never give. these men have to face the hard fact that they didn't get what they wanted as little boys, and they never will find that love and support that they seek from daddy as grown men. they need to grow up and learn to figure out a way to build their inner self esteem and love themselves. bashar al-assad's life will likely end as did hussein's and quadafi's and hitler's. it is a shame that they all didn't use their political influence to relieve pain and suffering and instead created so much pain and suffering.

    July 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  24. rplat

    Asad is going nowhere, Russia will not allow him to be deposed . . . it's that simple.

    July 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
    • Total non Sense

      RUssia need to be exluded from international desision. they are STILL A ENEMY COUNTRY

      July 16, 2012 at 12:12 am | Reply
      • AlexandertheGreat

        That is total nonsense!

        July 16, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  25. mattt

    This is sad. I won't deface anyone's opinion, but this is hardly a conversation but rather a mass of people blindly agreeing with propaganda. I mean no offence to anyone, but as that you do some research other than what CNN and Fox and other media outlets show you. All hard evidence has shown the Rebels to be the ones killing innocents, and if you think otherwise, stop and do a bit of logic. Do you people really think Assad is telling his army to go out and kill innocent people? Jesus...
    The Rebels have been proven to be backed by CIA and other Western powers from the start before dialogue was even discussed. China and Russia are stopping action because they know NATO is one step closer to their front doors, and want Syria for its strategic use against Iran. Please people....I'm begging you....stop listening to propaganda and start thinking this out....if Nato was really being used for good, why did we not stop darfur and other massacres from happening? Take a peak at a map of the middle east and notice how the USA has been slowly taking over each region....its called imperialism.

    July 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  26. edscan

    Assad has the same enemies that Saddam hd.
    His enemies are Saudi Arabia etal., the Oil Cartel, The Bushes
    and the hate filled part of Islam. They want no secular Arab
    States. The former secular Arab states were Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia
    and Libya.

    July 15, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  27. u not Saeed

    I Know when I see a Saeed you are a Propagandist red neck good job you almost fouled everyone.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat


      July 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
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