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. Antonio Santos

    When do we start to realize that Assad is NOT Saddam Housain or Ghadaffi? He did not blow up commerical airplanes like Ghadaffi did with PanAM. He did not poison his own people like Housain did. Actually, Syria supprted the first Gulf War and was an ally of the United States, Jordan (our current ally) did NOT. Assad never wanted to be in power, he wanted to be an eye doctor. The only reason he came to power was because his brother died.

    It is time we start denying the anti Syrian media in the U.S. What is the proof that the massacres were done by Assad's regime and not the opposition?? There is none. The media in the U.S, Anderson Cooperson first is just blind and reports what people like to hear without any proof. Who says that Assad is in control of his own country? Maybe his military is.

    What would we do if people storm our nations capital? Sit idle? Of course not, we would fight back as Assad is doing. And honestly, Mrs Clinton? You should be ashamed of yourself. The only reason you don;t like Assad is because they are an enemy of Israel. Your own husband went to visit Assad's father in 1996 to thank him for his support in the Middle East. Assad is not an enemy of Israel, he withdrew from Libanon and the Syrian/Israeli conflict is a lot easier to resolve than the Israeli/Palestianian conflict because it only regards the Golan hights.

    I hope Assad will survive and that there will be peace in Syria.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      Okay, I get it, you are Saeed's dad.

      July 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  2. C

    Oceania has always been at war with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Russia, China...WW3....BOOM! collapse, civil unrest....thank god, for NDAA, TSA, Executive Order — Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions, Patriot Act, FEMA camps; CONTROL. To protect you, from "terrorists"....History repeats, because you watch garbage reality television, rather than study world history, and apathetically believe, your mainstream media.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  3. Aloha from Hawaii

    You are not only an idiot but a sick individual. I think Hitler must have been your dad !

    July 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  4. Aloha from Hawaii

    Saeed are you not only an idiot but you are also a very sick mental individual. Hitler must have been your dad !

    July 15, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  5. Brian Smith

    He can hang on until the USA crumbles.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Reply
  6. pjoe

    He better find a nice little hut on an island somewhere, and hide.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  7. saaed is not saeed

    Mr scammer , who ever middle eastern name u using maybe a jew or anti arab cause i know u nor name is not saeed, those dirty tactics you use in order to make middle easterns look bad are very very old and ppl who believe those txts are new to politics

    July 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • Edict

      Saeed is Saeed is Saeed.

      July 16, 2012 at 8:58 am | Reply
  8. jfb

    this mosnter and "its" subhuman sadistic thugs shall not prevail

    July 16, 2012 at 12:01 am | Reply
  9. Total non Sense

    HTey know ehre he IS jut nuke a 1000 miles radius arround it et voila problem instantly solved and a fews les sub-human mulsims infecting the planet.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:11 am | Reply
  10. jib

    Go back into your cave. You're embarrassing the rest of the idiots.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:11 am | Reply
  11. abc64pan

    You are guilty by reason of insanity.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:34 am | Reply
    • Edict

      Do not give him an "out". He is guilty by reason of barbaric backwardness, violation of "human behaviour", lack of any education, ...

      July 16, 2012 at 9:01 am | Reply
  12. anon

    2001 memo read by General Wesley Clark while visting the White House Chief of staff in 2001; "The path to Persia will take us through Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, and then Iran" This has been planned for over a decade. How about you people get caught up on some news. You can also see Gen. Clark interviews with him talking about it. Go research.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:36 am | Reply
  13. anon

    EVERYONE should go and listen to today's No Agenda show to understand what this is really all about. And I can tell you straight off, it isn't about Humanitarian Crisises.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:37 am | Reply
  14. Sean

    My sympathies to the Syrian people. By all accounts Assad and his government are monsters and don't deserve power, but on the flip side it appears many of the rebel factions don't either. I don't want to see another Iraq, where many more U.S. troops would die, as well as more innocent Syrians. The U.S. military are not world police, they are killers, it is what they were trained to do and do a damn fine job of that. It can't be stressed enough, that to use the U.S. military in any other matter than defense of our borders is tyrannical.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:37 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      Sean – Bull crap! Your Muslim brethren are calling for help from the civilized world. You, all you can do is insult those who are better human beings then you will ever be. Typical muslim!

      July 16, 2012 at 9:32 am | Reply
  15. Peter Cory

    al-Assad could hang on quite a long time, I think. It will take extreme force to remove him. I don't care about the recent defections. al-Assad still has many supporters. Western powers must intervene now!

    History will place al-Assad along side people like Hitler, Stalin, Polt Pot, and Amin.

    But again, the only way to get rid of him is with force.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
  16. christian

    Protests in Saudi Arabia...Silence in the US

    Anti-regime demonstrators gather in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, July 8, 2012.
    Saudi Arabians are continuing to stage anti-government demonstrations, despite a violent crackdown by the security forces.

    There have a number of demonstrations in several towns over the past few days, Press TV reported on Sunday.

    Demonstrators have condemned the brutal police crackdown and are demanding the release of Shia cleric Sheikh Nemr al-Nemr, who was attacked, injured and arrested on July 8.

    On July 13, Saudi security forces in the town of Awamiyah killed an 18-year-old protester during a demonstration held near a police station in support of Sheikh Nemr.

    Meanwhile, 10 female protesters were arrested in the city of Buraydah, about 380 kilometers northwest of the capital Riyadh, over the past couple of days.

    Since February 2011, protesters have held numerous demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Qatif region and Awamiyah in the Eastern Province, calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination.

    However, the demonstrations have turned into protests against the House of Saud, especially since November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in Eastern Province.

    Similar demonstrations have also been held in Riyadh and the holy city of Medina over the past few weeks.

    The Saudi Interior Ministry issued a statement on March 5, 2011, prohibiting “all forms of demonstrations, marches or protests, and calls for them.”

    According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi regime “routinely represses expression critical of the government.”

    July 16, 2012 at 12:52 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      You have to learn how to do research.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:16 am | Reply
  17. dbc

    Assad looks like Hitler without the cheesy stache.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:53 am | Reply
  18. FedupwithLA

    With Russian help, and no help from the USA, Assad will stay for a long time. Obama is always happy to help the friends of freedom. Glad that Bush isn't President. Perhaps he might have done something. Too bad all those lives were lost in Syria, struggling for freedom. Send them Hillary, and take your shoes off and get ready!

    July 16, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
  19. rednaxelat

    He looks so much like Scott Walker of Wisconsin somehow, and Walker survived a very well justified popular uprising, thanks to heavy outside financing of TV propaganda. So if Walker can do it, so can Assad!

    July 16, 2012 at 1:12 am | Reply
  20. davetharave

    Assad – get out now or end up like Ghadafi

    July 16, 2012 at 1:39 am | Reply
  21. Joe


    I don't know where you were educated but that doesn't sound like anything but visceral ignorance nor does it sound like peace & harmony of a true Muslim.

    Do you really believe any region of the world of which you ally is ready to fight like men? I doubt it, you threat more is about cowardly bombing of innocents just so your gangs of tribal groups can gain power. The world has already seen that movie it's called Adolf Hitler so anytime your so called powerful group is ready just let us know. As usual we'll feed your starving children and protect the innocent as best we can but I'm hopeful next time our leaders know scorched earth is the only deterrant to war and we burn your evil to the ground.

    July 16, 2012 at 1:53 am | Reply
  22. Joe

    Do you really believe any region of the world of which you ally is ready to fight like men? I doubt it, you threat more is about cowardly bombing of innocents just so your gangs of tribal groups can gain power. The world has already seen that movie it's called Adolf Hitler so anytime your so called powerful group is ready just let us know. As usual we'll feed your starving children and protect the innocent as best we can but I'm hopeful next time our leaders know scorched earth is the only deterrant to war and we burn your evil to the ground.

    July 16, 2012 at 1:55 am | Reply
  23. USA

    Go ahead bring ur flame thrower ill bring my shot gun.. lets see who wins..

    July 16, 2012 at 2:42 am | Reply
  24. Allawite and Sunni

    Can CNN just refer to the Syrian Regime as the Baath Party instead of Alawites. And why is CNN so happy when a Sunni defects from the Regime? And also encouraging Sunnis to defect. We can sit in our arm chairs in the West and encourage bloody Sectarian war in this conflict. Anytime I read a post about the conflict on CNN it seems like the simple solution is for the Alawites to be wiped out and for Sunnis to take over. Talk of collective punishment and collateral damage.

    July 16, 2012 at 2:43 am | Reply
    • nina

      Supply the name of this article so that everyone can read also and i won't think of you as a filthy no good liar

      July 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  25. win4you

    CNN.. get a life.. leave Syria alone.. most of your stories are pure fabrication.. all of it from Long beard Whabbies..

    July 16, 2012 at 3:06 am | Reply
    • Edict

      win4you – you are an idiot. You seem to think that Americans are like your mongrel brethren and that we do not do our research before offering an opinion. The only “pure fabrication” is the fact that you think you are a human being.

      July 16, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  26. win4you

    100% correct Saeed.. Zakira is overrated journalist.. I guess CNN want to show audiences that they have a Muslim journalist holding a high position “ hahhaha”... Assad is winning.. US agendas are failing.. Go fix your debt..Leave M.E ALONE

    July 16, 2012 at 3:12 am | Reply
  27. MSL58

    Why can't we solve this Middle East issue which the Arabs create for themselves and by themselves like we solve all others: blame Israel?

    July 16, 2012 at 3:16 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat


      July 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  28. JerPell

    How long can the Obama regime hand on in America where he and his administration are so hated!

    July 16, 2012 at 3:22 am | Reply
    • FedupwithLA

      Now that's a good question . . .

      July 16, 2012 at 3:32 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      They can "hand on" as long as they are democratically elected.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
  29. Gaunt

    It must be fun being a brutal totalitarian muslim dictator: your actions have no consequences. because no matter what happens in your state thats bad, even if you directly caused it, its not your faulty: its the Jews!

    -Brutally opressing your own people and running torture camps against political opponents? Its the fault of the Jews!
    -Treating your own women like subhuman slaves woerth less than cattle? Its the fault of the Jews!
    -Massacring peaceful protesters for the crime of seeking reforms? Its the fault of the Jews!
    -Citizenry slaughtering each other in interfaith muslim sectarian violence? Its the fault of the Jews!

    According to some people here, brutal totalitarian muslim dictators can never do anything wrong, because if anyone points out ANY aspect of their repulsive behavior, racist and opressive societies, mysogenist policies, or brutal police states, they can just blame it all on the jews!

    July 16, 2012 at 3:44 am | Reply
    • MSL58

      I just realized that the Arabs can't produce anything these days. Even the idea of blaming everything on the Jews they had to borrow from elsewhere...

      July 16, 2012 at 4:44 am | Reply
      • AlexandertheGreat


        July 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  30. edward

    so your answer is violence to countries who are trying to help. You have issues.

    July 16, 2012 at 4:00 am | Reply
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