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. truesyrian2

    I didn't expect more than this from you ZAKARIA.
    i watched you for a while and it was obvious quickly how shallow was your political analysis, and how hard you are trying to appear as an american and nothing else, maybe you need to change your name, or even your skin color.
    anyway, its funny how desperate CNN and the western media and governments are becoming because of their failure in SYRIA.
    they thought with some propaganda they will have syria fallen in weeks.
    after more than a year and a half, and after all the temptaions with million of dollars offered by Qatar to anybody who defect, Mr Zakaria and his idol Mrs Clinton are dancing around for a defection of an embasseder to iraq, a third digree employee, and an officer who was off duty for more than a year.
    CNN asked how lond Assad can hold on, why don't you ask Nicolas Sarkozy, or maybe after november, you can ask
    somebody else.
    dream on buddy

    July 16, 2012 at 4:48 am | Reply
  2. FedupwithLA

    Okay, you guys in Syria, let's end this Assad regime once and for all. The USA is with you. Let's go, Free Syrian Army. C'mon Riyadh; C'mon Salim; You can do it . . .

    July 16, 2012 at 4:51 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      So, are you going back to Syria? since you're fed-up.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  3. timzmny

    How about a few cruze missles to Asads palace?

    July 16, 2012 at 5:24 am | Reply
  4. MNjonny

    Thats perfect Saeed spoken like a true fanatic as I thought you all were. Dont worry we will help clean up the mess when its all over if you need the help. But this time Im all good just letting you all kill each other......Yawn.

    July 16, 2012 at 5:48 am | Reply
  5. Steven Brown

    Apparently, this man wants to go out like Kaddafi... dead.

    July 16, 2012 at 6:45 am | Reply
  6. jrh

    Reading these comments, it's no wonder the world is so screwed up. And it's no wonder the world hates Americans. We deserve every bit of it by the looks of these postings.

    July 16, 2012 at 6:52 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      You American, what a laugh!

      July 16, 2012 at 10:22 am | Reply
  7. Nowzesh Hasan

    The top most fact is that genocide cannot be accepted by any means. This is atrocious: please consider any genocide beyond race, beyond religion. People of Syria are suffering, dying and starving: even women & children are among those victims. I do not care about dirty politics; I do not feel sympathy for blind religious notion.

    Why UN is dawdling much valuable time for taking fruitful initiative, I do not know. Every minute, there is a probability that someone is dying brutally. We, all are human, let’s live as one. Where is the ethics of Western world!!! Please do some needful immediately. We do not want to hear about political intricacy nor so called diplomacy. Please save those innocent souls from this predicament.

    Hey, pseudo-Muslims, I am telling you: you all are cowards, stupid & seduced from your religion. A brutal tyrant (Assad) is committing mass murder and most of you are just supporting him. What is the role of Arab league here: placid leaders of Arab league are so tacit on this genocide. Do not be blind, do not be a chauvinist to support mass murder. At least raise your voice to stop genocide. At least express your hatred to those beasts like Assad.

    My deepest hatred is for Assad & all his mercenaries. Protest it & at least raise your voice for humanity. People like you, like me, like our children, like our kith & kin are dying, suffering, starving & screaming in agony. This is heart breaking, this is unacceptable and this is brutal.

    Nowzesh (

    July 16, 2012 at 7:01 am | Reply
    • Edict

      Nowzesh Hasan
      “Why UN is dawdling much valuable time for taking fruitful initiative” :
      1. Your Muslim brethren are not doing anything about it.
      2. Russia and China vetoed any attempt at helping.
      3. Assad lies and cheats.
      But then you know that, you just enjoy trying to blame the USA for everything. A $ $ H O L E!

      July 16, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
  8. alientech

    Hopefully he'll hang on forever. Otherwise, the Muslim butcher mob will take over.

    July 16, 2012 at 7:04 am | Reply
  9. Beavis

    I'm in favor of overthrowing him so a more radically religious sect can take power. It's working out well in Egypt and Libya so far.

    July 16, 2012 at 7:19 am | Reply
    • Butthead

      All muslims lust for blood to feed allah.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
  10. Nowzesh Hasan

    Donot hurt eachother: rather think about this incedent & try to raise your voice for humanity. May be our notion is different, our color is different and may be we have many dissimilarities: but better think about similarities, we all feel pain & joy in similar way, just think about those children who are screaming in pain & torture.

    July 16, 2012 at 7:23 am | Reply
    • Butthead

      I suppose, BUT, I do not enjoy spilling the blood of innocents in the name of allah the magnificent and his buddy, the profiteer Moohamed.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:24 am | Reply
  11. Gunny

    Saeed, Easy talking to people like that on here bet in real life you are a dirty sneak. A Creeper you know what I am saying. You never have to like anyone but say to kill children you merely show just how stupid you are. ISA

    July 16, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
  12. gamersliverfang

    CNN Propaganda never sees to amaze me.

    (Defections. Evidence of weakened internal support. Reports of "silent objectors" in the army. A shortage of cash. How long can Syria's Bashar al-Assad hang on)

    ( Reports of "silent objectors" in the army)
    Reported by whom? CNN's Think tanks? the activists like a guy living in London reporting all this with a cell phone ?

    ( A shortage of cash)
    Activist claims on twitter.

    (– 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?)

    I guess since Zakaria admits it i am sure Zakaria wont mind an alliance of Sryia and the two undemocratically countries of Qatar and Saudi Arabia then.

    July 16, 2012 at 7:27 am | Reply
    • Butthead

      Muslims never seem to amaze me. Do all kinds of inhumane things and blame it on everyone else.
      I guess allah and moohamed are proud.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
  13. Lady ofthe Lake

    I suspect that Assad is a direct descendant of King Herod.

    July 16, 2012 at 7:33 am | Reply
    • Butthead

      I guess Assad is a direct descendant of Moohamed.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
  14. Andres Romero


    July 16, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      Saeed – I have a horse that was not anything special, as a matter of fact it is quite ugly, so when it started picking flghts with the other better looking horses that were not creating any problem, I had it castrated and put it with the females. Now it just eats all day and the girls push it around. Very funny!

      July 16, 2012 at 9:23 am | Reply
  15. Theodore heat

    Asad....mark my words for u.....Gadafi's fate will much enjoyable than yours!!!!

    July 16, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  16. Antony Scalia

    He'll hang on until he is ASSASSINATED.

    July 16, 2012 at 7:46 am | Reply
  17. Hanibaal

    This regime has servived 25 years of killings to their neighbor the Lebanese state under the supervision of the international powers and states, helping the International terrorism to florish in the region with the help of Iranian regime, Syrian and the Zionist regime, putting the region on the mouth of a volcano. The reality is that the Syrian regime through out the history maintained the killing policy against Sunnis and Christians, also enjoyed the Support of the Zionist and Iran as well for maintaining a calm borders and trade agreements. This politics is in the region for while since the killings of Queen Jezebel by the Zionist without a fair trial, and the Maronite brothers in Damascus, creating anti-Lebanese vision in the media and politics for centuries.

    July 16, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      Hanibaal – The regime has survived by killing, lying, maiming, mutilating… in the good old fashioned Muslim way. Nobody in the civilized world helped them.

      July 16, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
  18. peteOJ

    This is an Islamic spring and not an Arab spring. The struggle has nothing to do with freedom or democracy.
    It is a power struggle by the Sunnis to take over and if Assad is ousted the Sunnis will install their own dictator. We must stay clear of this conflict.
    Obama hasn't a clue.

    July 16, 2012 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      Well stated!

      July 16, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
  19. Jamal Ahmed

    Not too long; I assure you. It is a matter of weeks or months at the max.

    July 16, 2012 at 8:21 am | Reply
    • Butthead

      or years, or...

      July 16, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
  20. pop

    Thank you all you all are good friends but don't forget to take care about your own business Syria not for sale and only syrian people will protect Syria

    July 16, 2012 at 8:29 am | Reply
    • Alexander

      Now you are talking.
      If I were you I would discuss this with the buttheads who want to see the USA involved.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  21. Amaterus

    Like the others in history, I see Assad superimposed on French/Russian Revolution.
    Till he is confronted by gunpoint, he just won't get it would he?

    July 16, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
  22. MSL58

    I think the Arabs should solve this problem the same way they deal with every other mess they create for themselves: blame Israel.

    July 16, 2012 at 8:48 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat


      July 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  23. John Doughboy

    Assad will hang on just as long as he can and will probably remove all opposition. No outsiders are able to do anything it seems at this point including the UN and the Arab League. Russia and China are not going to openly oppose him because this is a civil war and they have vested interests to wait util it is all over.

    July 16, 2012 at 9:14 am | Reply
  24. jimmy lim

    He will probably end up like gadafli in a couple of months

    July 16, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
  25. lobna

    to hell with so called democracy.

    July 16, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
    • lobna

      Bring on the caliphate.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  26. Jame

    Serious Idiot for sure.

    July 16, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
  27. just me

    he will hang on until one of his own guards take him out.

    July 16, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • lobna

      For a few dihrams, any body guard will off their charge in the muslim world.
      or, any body guard will off their charge if you tell him that 1000 years ago, his relative killed your relative.
      Muslim killing muslim is so much fun!

      July 16, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
  28. galileo

    The problem is that Russia and China are feeling that they are loosing all influence in the region and that is why they are not supporting going after Al-Assad. They have seen the chaotic management of Iraq and Afganistan. And quite frankly, I understand that they do not see a military action against the Al-Assad regime with good eyes, because they feel that if it is bad now, with the US being in there, it will not be much better, i.e. Iraq, with the difference that they will have no control what so ever anymore. They only solution is to put a viable roadmap on the table, where all parties will have equal rights, first of all the Syrian people. So far I have not heard anything from the US in that direction. If Russia would have invaded, under false pretext (weapons of mass destruction), Mexico, then the US would be very far from supporting an other military action on there doorsteps from Russia, even if doorstep country would be Chavez's Venezuela. Politics are politics, if you like it or not. If the US wants Russia and China on their side I would let them take the initiative and support them, but is something what the US would not agree either. Unfortunately people come last, otherwise the US would have to invade most African countries.

    July 16, 2012 at 10:24 am | Reply
    • lobna

      You seem to see this whole thing very simply.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
      • galileo

        Iobna, I do not thing that what I have stated is simple, in actual fact it is very complicated that the US and Russia/China will pull from the same side of the roap. But Russia/China are not intrested in Al-Assad, they are only intrested in not loosing influence. They are already at a point where they are disacoating to Al-Assad:
        Quote "Christiane Amanpour interviewed the president of the Center for the National Interest, Dimitri Simes"

        July 16, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  29. IDF

    Al-Assad should flee Syria and go to Iran...I'm quite certain Ayatollah Khamenei or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would welcome him with open arms !!

    July 16, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
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