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. TopView20

    Let´s look at the big picture. While the UN balks and woobles, hundred and hundreds of innocents are slaughtered. The UN is nothing but a "delay of action" to any necessary activity to prevent ongoing civilian murders. Strip this killing beaurocracy from the world, and put aggressive military rescue units where they need to be. Does the world really believe we need to wonder about Russia´s motives before we save innocent lives? Rescue, then wonder. But do not languish first! The United Nations is a shamelful excuse for ongoing slaughters.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  2. psychicstalker

    Hope he can't hang on as long as he thinks.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  3. Bezboz

    The question is flawed. It's not about how long can he hang on. It's how long can the west and the Wahabbis and Salafis fool themselves into the illusion that they can overthrow him with money.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  4. Dr. Zeuss

    And now, sarin nerve gas was transferred to Homs by the military. Nice. Way to go Russia. There should be a 2nd UN Security Council created for only members that put human rights above "process". That would eliminate Russia and China. Put Canada on. Put Italy on.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  5. Caïro

    Talleyrand said that with bayonets you can do everything but, to sit down on them.
    Well, have to be seen if this is the same in Syria now as it was in Talleyrand Europe’s time.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  6. Raffi


    July 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  7. tony

    TO JACKOLA you are one of ASSAD electronic thugs or a supporters of evil. We know you should be ashame of your self, you ..and Dr. LATAKI or halawela,Farah ect... are known and you should be ashame for sidding with the wrong side and supprot the evil to destroy your country. You guys represent an outlier of a minority who benifited from Assad regime at the expense of poor syrian people. In this world there are always people who have no moral they can sell their mother for a penny like you driven by hatred to human kind. Of course in israel there are many who are neutral and ciivilized not like you and speaks for the truth and they are on the right side who oppose evil and bad people like yourself and the Korva family you came from.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
    • MEPolitics

      Looks like you have more hatred in you than the one you are attacking.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  8. MEPolitics

    CNN was expecting him not to last more than two weeks, as well the allies. Then they started talking about a month or two and so on.. It's been 17 months and counting

    July 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      So much ignorance.
      So much stupidity.
      So islamic.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  9. TopView20

    The UN is not just a idiot brigade, it is part of the killing of innocents. Shut down the UN overnight. Just lock the doors and let the butterflies swarm. It is part of the killing machines!

    July 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha you wish!

      July 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      The world is just one big testing ground for our new weapon development.
      Now be quiet and hope we don't notice you.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
    • urwrong

      The UN will eventually follow the League of Nations into oblivion.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
      • lobna

        You are drooling when you say that.
        Here, have a rag and wipe your face.

        July 16, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  10. Al

    It is all so disappointing to see and hear that so many live in blissful ignorant denial. The truth lies truly in moral and ethical compass. Those who have neither and refuse to open their minds and hearts will loose in the end. It will be a painful ending, both spiritually, psychologically and physically. Makes me sad to see and hear this kind of rhetoric.

    I would like to see you live a happy life, rather than one so poisoned by believing the lies you have been so programmed with. Time to think for yourself. You are free to do that, aren't you?? Maybe not.

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

      Careful, allah's listening to make sure the lies you tell are appropriate to the situation.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  11. how long

    Assad will survive the global 1%.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      please define "global 1%".

      July 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  12. tin.tun

    ...F u...

    July 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  13. Fckr.

    Americans ar suckers,look what they did in libya,u were there for oil!! What do you want again in syria?

    July 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Who wants to go to Syria.
      I dont.
      It is full of poop.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      Oh hush....
      America will do whatever it wants and no one can stop them.
      How many drones do you need to see over your heads before you realize you're nothing but target practice to us.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  14. Ancalimon

    If I was a gambling man, I would put my money on an Alawite led coup that throws down the Assad regime and establishes a democratic government. This would be the only thing that could possibly save the Alawite community from annihilation.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      It takes cahones to do that.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  15. xfiler93

    with Russia and China supporting him...forever.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Well said.

      July 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • Bezboz

      And don't forget India, Brazil, South Africa, and of course the usual suspects, Iran, Venezuela and the like. They only happent to account for 1/2 the world's population.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
      • moorhamed

        India and South Africa – who are you trying to fool.
        No 72 sturgeons for you!

        July 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  16. Clinton

    Saeed – the problem with your post is... The US and Britain aren't bankrupt, on the contrary, despite a worldwide recession, and despite the "tough" economic recovery, the US is still by far the largest economy in the world. We have debt but so do many other nations, we're not a weak country. On the contrary, we're also the strongest country in the world militarily, in fact, the gap widens when you talk about Military technology and strength... We're even further ahead of the rest of the world in that department.... in fact, post some more psychotic rants while you can, i'm sure the drones are closing in on you, enjoy the hellfire missles, oh and say hi to Saddam when you get to hell.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • Justice4All

      As long as the UN has control and involvment Assad will keep killing. There needs to be intervention NOW! And I dont mean with Drones which there are sustainable facts and reports that the're not a very dependable weapon. Many innocent lives are taken with these useless remote tools.Wouldnt that make the U.S. a type of terrorist as well. And futher more,as we all know,or soon will come to realize, the U.S. and it's military power is weakening thanks to Obama trying to bring us back to pre WWII numbers. Iran enriching uranium, Al Qaeda regaining strenght. The U.S. is not heading down a good path...not at all. I voted for Barrack Insane Obama once and I can guarantee I wont be voting for him a second time!

      July 14, 2012 at 7:46 am | Reply
    • Justice4All

      As long as the UN has control and involvment Assad will keep killing. There needs to be intervention NOW! And I dont mean with Drones which there are sustainable facts and reports that the're not a very dependable weapon. Many innocent lives are taken with these useless remote tools.Wouldnt that make the U.S. a type of terrorist as well. And futher more,as we all know,or soon will come to realize, the U.S. and it's military power is weakening thanks to Obama trying to bring us back to pre WWII numbers. Iran enriching uranium, Al Qaeda regaining strenght. The U.S. is not heading down a good path...not at all. I voted for Barrack Insane Obama once and I can guarantee I wont be voting for him a second time!

      July 14, 2012 at 7:56 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      Justice4All = SAEED
      As long as the UN has control and involvment Assad will keep killing.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:12 am | Reply
  17. vasmikey

    How long can he hold on? I guess as long as there are people left to kill. Once the killing starts, these leaders never think about the accountability. Accountability will come for him, and Russia and China.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  18. Bookenz

    He has elf ears.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Maybe he is a leprechaun led astray.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  19. the whale boy

    english please?

    July 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  20. tom

    coo coo!!

    July 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  21. rexdeie

    im guessing that "saeed" is about nine or ten years old.... killing people with flame throwers and all.... except for people who make flame throwers.... they are probably glad to have some free advertising for their products... in the meantime
    "al ass(hole)ad".... obviously couldn't care less about his country or his people... if he did.... he would try to establish and end to this insanity...

    July 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      So you are suggesting that Saeed with or without his towel is a shill for flame throwers?
      naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, you have to have some intelligence and that boy has none. Nothing, nada, just an empty head.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  22. P. JOSH

    Saddam had WMD,Kadaffi had Viagra, all lies,what does Assad has, Levitra.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      He has a funny face.
      That's reason enough for us.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  23. havok

    you're on an american site moron

    July 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  24. Mark

    Assad must have something on Putin. That is the only way Putin would support him.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      Gay lovers..........

      July 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
      • lobna

        i like your response.
        My evening laugh.

        July 16, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • urwrong

      Russia uses a port in Syria.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  25. Bob

    Silly CNN. These defections mean nothing. When Allowites and Shia begin defecting let us know.

    The Allowites and Shia will hang on because if they don't they will be completely annihilated by the Sunni.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      You reap what you sow.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  26. Freedom Fascist

    So let me get this straight...When mr al-Assad is torturing your detainees (against international law) he's a pretty cool guy. When he starts torturing his own detainees he is a monster and needs to be stopped. You are pathetically stupid America!

    July 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      Stupid as a fox....

      July 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
      • joel

        rainman make mistake rainman have problem doing same thing every time dictators fall in rapid succession. rainman can't really count tooth picks when pressed on it.

        July 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  27. Lee, London

    I am British and I wish you, your family and children no harm. I hope you have a long, peaceful and joyful ife. I never voted for any wars in the Middle East – I marched against the American / British invasion in Iraq so did over a million other British. Every time I hear about massacres in Syria I feel really depressed and confused. I'm sorry you feel angry I am angry too as I don't know how or when the killing and suffering will stop.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Reply
    • ceramicbisque

      Well I'm not surprised you're not out there marching to help the Syrians, since you marched against helping the people being brutalized in Iraq.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  28. doesn't matter

    Who is against al assad and why? The man is doing great with the resources his country has. i doubt if his people work as hard as the people in the so called "rich" countries do. Come on, you may replace one tyrant, but you will get 40 million instead. Look at Iraq, Lybia, Egypt and Tunis. The region is going from, ok, we know you're crazy but your not acting crazy, to, ok, we know you're crazy and your acting crazy!

    July 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      The goal is to create chaos and instability.
      No leadership and disorganized military.
      Easy to move in and take over later
      This is what we call "ground work".

      July 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  29. Rem

    When you dig down and find a midden, why bother to dig any deeper? You’re still only going to find more of the same. Cowards espouse attacking children and other innocents

    July 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
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