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. Andrey

    I am not bothered much with US position or with CNN lying now and then... Because it is all political games and nothing more. What lets me down are all these liberals (dems, reps and EU) commenting: do these people really believe all that crap they post? How do they manage to maintain such an "white and black" picture of the world around them? I have difficulty dealing with the concept of any of them being actual adult socially-adjusted person! That just cannot be: nobody is that brainwashed! Well, but probably is....

    July 13, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
    • Yoshi Togukawa

      Congratulations. You are the only mature individual on this planet. Why you are not the Emperor of the Galaxy, I just can`t understand. The mere fact you chose to lavish us with your words, caused everyone to faint. I am sure we are all impatiently waiting for you next grunt. Andrey! Banzai!

      July 13, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
      • islamics and violence against everyone

        Hey Yoshi, what can you understand, violence, death, hate, backstabbing?

        July 13, 2012 at 11:32 am |
      • Yoshi Togukawa

        You have no idea, so if you don`t know, don`t ask stupid questions.

        July 13, 2012 at 11:41 am |
      • moorhamed

        YOU have no idea.

        July 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Nameworld peace *

      Is it that time again for the green party in Iran

      July 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  2. Bill

    I have not see a key Alawite figure abandon al-Assad to this point, and I do not see it happening at least anytime in the near future. The Alawites have much to lose if al-Assad is removed from power, and make up the majority of the security fources that surround the president. To this point, there does not appear to be much defection from key members. His biggest problem is the fact that money is beginning to run out, and the ability to put forces over the long term on the street may become difficult. I do see al-Assad holding on for a very long time if nothing really changes.

    July 13, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • Yoshi Togukawa

      Alawites are but 10-12% of the total population. If Assad loses this one, the Alawites fear for their lives. Sunni will surely take revenge. It`s their way. The Sunnis will massacre the alawites and all of the Assad regime. They will completely miss the opportunity to build a country together. The killing spree will begin as soon as Assad loses power. For Alawites to defect is totally crazy.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:33 am | Reply
      • jackola

        You are100% correct. The big mistake made by the naive West and the rebels is that they put the Al-Assad regime between a rock and a hard place. Since they offered him no exit strategy, the Al-Assad regime including the well-armed 12% (Alawites) plus the armed-to-the-teeth Hizballah will kill to the last man woman and child to stay alive. They know it will be their death by slaughter if Al-Assad falls. My prediction is that he will prevail and be a thorn in the side of Hillary Clinton till her last day.

        July 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
      • Johnathan

        Why is it that everytime anything goes wrong in the world it is either the USA or Israel's fault,
        Why can you not just admit that the Arab world is a mess because the Arabs have made it a mess.
        The Arabs have subjugated, killed, abused, exploited, mistreated their own people to the point now that they are revolting.

        July 15, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  3. Yoshi Togukawa

    You are a true dropkick. Your presence on this planet is a waste of space.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
  4. revelations 13:7

    good thing we never stopped spending money on defense, right guys? that way we can obliterate all this fifth-rate powers, god forbid something like russia or china trys taking a stand against the hubris of the almight West

    July 13, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
    • islamics and violence against everyone

      Lets all civilized people withdraw from helping these b a s t a r d s and let them kill each other. After all, they want to go see allah, dont they?

      July 13, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
      • Tarek from Syria

        I have read dozens of your comments and you keep saying the word "Allah" with disrespect. I hope you understand that that word means God in Arabic and is used by Christians as well.

        July 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
      • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

        allah, allah, allah says go kill innocents.
        allah, allah, allah says I need to drink some innocent blood.

        July 14, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  5. P.S

    Dear Assad, let the Americans barking. do more and more massacres. Kill all the rebels. Death to America and Israel. Long live al-Assad and Iran .

    July 13, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
    • P.S.S.

      Dear islamists, you create your own problems.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Yoshi Togukawa

      You are a waste of space on this planet.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
      • islamics and violence against everyone

        I know you are but what am I?
        hahahahahaha

        July 13, 2012 at 11:47 am |
      • Yoshi Togukawa

        Islamic: I was not referring to you. However if the shoe fits wear it.

        July 13, 2012 at 11:48 am |
      • islamics and violence against everyone

        How about my boot up your...

        July 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
      • P.S

        Keep us strong .

        July 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
      • moorhamed

        Hey P>S> keep eating those camel steaks.
        That will keep you soooooooo smaaaaaaaaaaaaaaart.

        July 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
      • Yoshi Togukawa

        Islamic: you mean my boot up Uranus?

        July 16, 2012 at 6:59 am |
      • lobna

        Yoshi – That will do just fine.
        Well stated!

        July 16, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Norm

      Google translate needs some work.
      LOL...

      July 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Reply
    • urwrong

      Why don't you sign up for anger management class and bring B. Al-Assad along?

      July 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  6. Real Patriot

    how long can CIAda continue to keep up telling this lie and have nobody believe it?

    July 13, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      Do not put this on CIA: do not need a spy to do the journalist's job! Spying is about obtaining the intelligence. Journalism: about offending the intelligence!

      July 13, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
      • Real Patriot

        our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan became our friends in Libya and Syria, a little odd no, besides Russia insists the Syrian Security Council are non-Syrian foreign terrorists.

        July 13, 2012 at 11:40 am |
      • Real Patriot

        and youre aware that the US government had created their own Syrian Media in 2006? as reported by wikileaks

        July 13, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • KATIE

      How long can the Syrian opposition keep killing its own people before...

      July 13, 2012 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • Yoshi Togukawa

      So, if you trust the Russians more, I know about this little flat for rent in Moscow, right on Lubyianka Prospect.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
  7. Americantraveler

    Ignorance is bliss, hatred is fueled, lies cover truth, idiots stand out.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:17 am | Reply
  8. revelations 13:7

    and, really? what does the man have to gain by slaughtering his own citizens? the ones doing the rebelling are always responsible, just look at Occupy.... and then go look at the Congo

    July 13, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
    • islam and violence

      As previously, islam and violence appear to dominate global politics in the twenty-first century.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
      • MEPolitics

        And ofcourse US is working hand in hand with these criminals, sorry the freedom fighters...

        July 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
      • moorhamed

        Freedom fighters = Caliphate slaves

        July 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Norm

      The only thing Occupy slaughters is your conscience.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  9. ken

    No matter what your age is you are NOT a man. Only a coward would say what you just said.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
  10. P.S

    Putin told the Russia Today channel, "the American empire will collapse because they do not have money, and Assad will stay." Long live al-Assad, Putin and Iran. Death to America, Israel and the Sunni in Syria. Sunni in Syria are agents to America .

    July 13, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Yoshi Togukawa

      Your wishes? Pure invention

      July 13, 2012 at 11:46 am | Reply
      • P.S

        This is the reality .

        July 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Bishop

      I'm sorry did you say Putin? JAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA You should check the side you on PS - Russia can't even keep it's country together. Enough of the games the Arab nations are a bunch of scattered tribes who assault women and promote illiteracy with millions of people leaving daily if they are allowed. It's an embarrassment for a culture that helped start the world as we know it to turn out like it has.

      July 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
      • imam

        Shame on you islam.

        July 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Andrey

      Are you a journalist and looking employment with CNN? Your lie is very obvious, but that probably can be fixed under supervision of CNN experienced stuff. Too bad they have got all the small liars they need right now...

      July 13, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  11. Ray

    Saeed: Dirka dirka dirka? Dirka dirka, jihad dirka dirka.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:48 am | Reply
  12. Mikhael

    Unfortunately, arab political cultures is what is it today and has been and may not change much in the future. These people on the most part tend to pledge loyalty to their clan or religious afiliation. So country as a whole matter only when they are attacked as a country. But after, they al go back to their clan base mentality. There are plenty of dictotor, mullahs, sheiks , kings and all types of dictators that govern. Most have done terrible things to stay in power. Assad is one. But Assad was always not a puppet of others. He tried to be independent. But the other worse dictotors in the neighborhood have plenty of cash from oil and play nice with western powers. So they don't get bash when they kill their own or violate the most basic civil rights. So they get say with the blessings of other capitals. After Assad, there will be make uo parliament and elections but the real guy will another thug with nice suit and that speak good french or english. He will be the darling. So it matters little because I the end of the day, Arabs will always be Arabs. They will always look for that strong man or clan or sheik or colonel or general or a technocrat or whatever to rule....blessed by a "fair" elction. And this guy will stay if he play his card right with his backers...it. is the unfortunate reality of the world...

    July 13, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • jackola

      Right on the money.

      July 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  13. saeedTheTowelHead

    Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaddy?

    July 13, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
  14. Michael

    Why does CNN still refer to them as Alawite, and Shiite, they don't say Sunnite...its shia and alawi for christ sake.

    July 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
    • islamics and violence against everyone

      what's a "sunnite"? ...for Christ's sake.

      July 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  15. rico7207

    Please send his gorgeous wife here to Canada so I can take care of her and her happiness.

    July 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
    • nina

      Women choose their own destiny in the free world

      July 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
    • jackola

      She is beautiful, young, and wealthy. She will shake you off her shoe like a piece of dirt.

      July 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
      • moorhamed

        or camel poop.

        July 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  16. ogic

    The pages of history are littered with d story of sweet victory stolen by another oppressor. Libya for instance. After AL-ASSAD what and WHO is next? in the human tragedy of individuals not knowing when it is appropriate to leave the stage;

    July 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  17. Marty

    Lying to flee your problems is the weakness of Idiots whom think their Strong

    July 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      ???????????????????????????????????????

      July 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  18. NorCalMojo

    I still can't tell what's really going on in Syria. Both sides are lying through their teeth.

    July 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  19. Aaron Chaney

    Covetousness is a sin. Translation: Tunisia only has received proper remuneration during the so-called Arab Spring because they are an original. All the rest i.e. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and yes Syria, are all covetous copycats.

    July 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  20. Yoda

    I wish someone would Bashar his face in!!!

    July 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Reply
    • lobna

      ahahahahahahahahahahaha...

      July 16, 2012 at 10:42 am | Reply
  21. Bishop

    When is enough enough? They haven't been able to settle differences in that region for thousands of years – times up! Make it a parking lot and beach front property already – the Mediterranean is beautiful this time of year. People who are so righteous and religious , what a joke – they don't follow the Koran at all most of the population can't even read and when Saddam Hussein was out of options he started destroying thousand year old religious relics for spite. When is enough – enough?

    July 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  22. The American Knight

    Saeed, the FBI will be tracking you. If they don't get you, then you can always try and get me. I'll be waiting not with a gun... I got a blade for people like you. We can fight this one out, no one threatens America and gets away with it.

    July 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
    • islamics and violence against everyone

      Saeed is threatening violence against an innocent. Typical islamist.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      He's trying to plant the saeeds of violence.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Reply
    • Saeedo

      The fake character Saeed is a big liar, because his name is not Saeed and he wants to make problems between people. I think he is below ten.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Reply
    • Frank Hood

      "...no one threatens America and gets away with it."...unless they have nukes like Russia, China, North Korea.....

      July 14, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  23. Ali

    @Saeed: You are beyond psychiatric help. What make you think that everyone in England and America is hiding the truth except people like Bashar Asad, Iranian and North Korean leaders and other dictators? Thank god you represent a small segment of losers and idiots in middle east, and we all know that people like you are used as thugs by dictators to create fear and terror in the people.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  24. Tim Beeker

    What happens when al-Assad gets a few weapons of mass destruction and wants to take Damascus down as a last resort?

    July 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Reply
    • TiredOfPaying

      A Damacusectomy?

      July 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  25. avy123

    ummm ! .....so long as Bush defies International Criminal Court.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • Bishop

      Criminal court for what? Saddam threatened multiple countries with weapons of mass destruction and an elite military and AL-Qaeda cut off the head of a US civilian on the internet while threatening the US and he willingly hid them in Iraq – not to mention the people who hit the twin towers. That is more than enough cause for military action. Get your head out of your a$$.

      July 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
      • avy123

        I would like to see – you sitting at your house minding your business and have solders knock at your door search your house and fondle with your wife n daughters and f*** them and then burn them alive......
        War on Afghanistan was justifiable but Iraq war – Bush himself confessed it was a mistake many times.....
        Get Real you f*** head !

        July 15, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  26. suhaib

    Why give up our world?
    We like life ..........
    ..... People of the free world ..... Help us
    This appeal is from a Syrian human recessive

    July 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
    • lobna

      and where are the 2B muslims?

      July 16, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  27. babs

    He and his wife and family must be tortured and killed.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • Then

      Then what happens. I'll tell you. Towel Heads will take control and torture YOUR wife and family. THAT's what.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  28. Johnna

    Saeed must be a muslim, what other religion/cult would advocate burning CHILDREN with flamethrowers. Typical muslim!

    July 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • Les Too

      That is NOT typical Muslim behavior. It is the behavior of distinct Islamic sects. Like Xtianity, it has hundreds of sects. Those groups are the equivalent of the Xtian conservative evilangelican groups of heretics we see in the US. Both groups practice hate, twist the writings of their holy books, and think of themselves as special friends of their deities. This has historically led to the slaughter of millions of people in the name of their god by both groups..

      July 13, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
      • urwrong

        Well stated Les Too, it is the extremists of any group that are the problem. In the good USA, the so-called "Christian" abortion clinic bombers are disgusting vile terrorists who (like other terrorists) believe the the end justifies the means.

        July 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  29. Asaph

    Yeah .. the USA and IJK might just spend and borrow their way into monetary bankruptcy but the kind of bankruptcy in Syria is far worse. All you can do is rally around your strongman or fight to the death against him. Or leave.

    FINALLY the people of the region are insisting on better ways of running a country and people like Assad have to leave, forcefully if necessary.

    Killing Americans? Well, you can try but I wouldn't recommend it as a career path.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  30. Les Too

    Politics should have no place in the Iran controversy. The only discussion should focus on their ongoing slaughter of innocents. The US, Russia and China need to respond swiftly and with precision to take this murderer and his "friends" out. Democratic or not, a government has no right to attack and kill its own citizens especially their women, elderly and children, The rest of the world is just as guilty so long as they stand by and do nothing to prevent these heinous crimes against humanity. Groups like the Shia are the equivalent to the Xtian evilangelicans in the US. Both groups need to outlawed for spreading hate and fear..

    July 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
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