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. joel

    what's he holding onto and how high is it up, is it greasy and are there gators? i need more facts about mr al assad cnn's holding on to ins.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Sure, reporters are not reporting everything.
      The USA is not your sand covered country, there are no secrets reporters can or will keep.
      Every discussion we have, you try real hard to turn the tables on us.
      Silly muzzie!

      July 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
      • joel

        JUST REPORT ABOUT THE AREA AROUND YOU CNN. NOBODY SHOULD EVEN BE TALKING ABOUT ANYTHING UNLESS IT IS A DUST BUNNY OR THE COFFEE CUP RING LOOKS LIKE A JAVA SICKLE, THEN YOU CAN SAY COFFEE IS RUSSIAN, BUT DON'T SAY YOU KNOW WHAT RUSSIA IS, AND STOP GETTING ON PLANES TO GO PLACES WITH A NOTEBOOK JUST GO HANG OUT AND MAYBE ONCE YOU ARE THERE FOR A YEAR YOU CAN START TALKING AGAIN ABOUT YOUR CURRENT IMMEDIAATE SURROUNDS. DORKS

        July 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  2. ceramicbisque

    Killing any child and random killing of any person is a barbaric practice and shows an extremely low understanding of what COULD make this planet an outstanding place to reside. As an American, and extremely proud to be one, I don't care what your religious or political views are as long as they don't hurt other people or take away THEIR choices to determine their well being. Being a BULLY is never acceptable in ANY culture, so get over yourself.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • alexisis01

      Oh, I am sure native Americas would laugh on you.

      July 16, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      We have atoned for the terrible mistakes we have made in dealing with native Americans. We continue to atone through land and monetary support.
      What has islam done to atone for the horrors they have perpetuated from inception to today?
      I 'll tell you – NOTHING.
      So do you really want to have this conversation?

      July 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  3. joel

    I just defected from my country spiritually, and blew up a bridge mentally with flying monkeys and nothing but maps printed from an old encyclopdia that washed up into caspiar in the 60's sorry

    July 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      psssst...Joel....everyone is ignoring you.......k?

      July 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
      • joel

        I FEEL BAD BECAUSE I AM INGORED BY EVERYONE. IT'S A TOO BAD YOU ARE HELPING OUT THE INGORANTED

        July 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  4. how long

    no Libor story, CNN? because the zi on ist thieves on wall street are implicated in the biggest theft of human history?

    July 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Here we go, time to pull the Zionist card.
      A S S W I P E.
      This is muslim killing muslim.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  5. joel

    NOOOOBBBOOOODDDDYYY CCCCAAAARRREEEESSS BBBUUUUTTTTT AAAAAAAASSSSSHHHHOOOOOOOLLLLLLEEEEEESSSS CCCCCNNNNNNNNNNNN

    July 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  6. Ali Baba

    Allah Akbar!

    Long live Saeed, Long live Saddam, Long live Hafez, Long live Uday, Long live Yasser!

    July 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Long live, stupidity, ignorance, Absurdity, Witlessness ...

      July 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  7. Norm

    Look up saeed.
    There's a drone over your head.
    Kiss your goats goodbye.
    We'll be by to pick up your women a bit later.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • Wolf

      Saeed is 10 years old. Don't listen to him. My brother is 9 years old and he can write crazy comments on websites.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  8. joel

    DON'T GIVE CHILDREN LIBOR JUST BECAUSE THE NEWS IS SO TERRIBLE THAT THEY START TALKING TO THEMSELF IN REASSURING VOICES FROM ANOTHER PLANET

    July 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      "LIBOR "?????????????????????????????????????????????

      July 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  9. drax

    Power must make you crazy, because any 10 year old fool could see that now is the time for this guy to make a spritely step outta Syria, concede the game, and at least escape with his life...maybe. Otherwise, I see this ending very badly for him. Why oh why do these dictators always fight to the death when they know from history, it's the only inevitable outcome? This man must truly would rather lose his life than his job.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  10. Norm

    Anyone else think this guy looks like some mountain inbred from West by God Verginny?

    July 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  11. Muhammad

    @Saeed
    You are most likely a non Muslim islamophobic moron who wants to yell non sense and pretend to be a Muslim to give bad name to Muslims. If you really are a Muslim you should stop using your time spreading "Wisdom" on CNN blogs and read a thing or 2 written in Quran.

    “whoever kills an innocent soul, who has not taken a life or brought destruction to society, is as if has killed the entire humanity; and whoever saves an innocent soul is as if he has saved the entire humanity.” (Al-Ma'idah 5: 32).

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

      The Quran:

      Quran (2:191-193) – "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]... but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah." The historical context of this passage is not defensive warfare, since Muhammad and his Muslims had just relocated to Medina and were not under attack by their Meccan adversaries. In fact, the verses urge offensive warfare, in that Muslims are to drive Meccans out of their own city (which they later did). The use of the word "persecution" by some Muslim translators is thus disingenuous (the actual Muslim words for persecution – "idtihad" – and oppression – a variation of "z-l-m" – do not appear in the verse). The actual Arabic comes from "fitna" which can mean disbelief, or the disorder that results from unbelief or temptation. Taken as a whole, the context makes clear that violence is being authorized until "religion is for Allah" – ie. unbelievers desist in their unbelief.

      Quran (2:244) – "Then fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah Heareth and knoweth all things."

      Quran (2:216) – "Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not." Not only does this verse establish that violence can be virtuous, but it also contradicts the myth that fighting is intended only in self-defense, since the audience was obviously not under attack at the time. From the Hadith, we know that this verse was narrated at a time that Muhammad was actually trying to motivate his people into raiding merchant caravans for loot.

      Quran (3:56) – "As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help."

      July 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
      • Star bucks

        You are Saeed also. You are using different names. Stop that Zionist.

        July 13, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • moorhamed

      Quran (3:151) – "Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority". This speaks directly of polytheists, yet it also includes Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be 'joining companions to Allah').

      Quran (4:74) – "Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward." The martyrs of Islam are unlike the early Christians, led meekly to the slaughter. These Muslims are killed in battle, as they attempt to inflict death and destruction for the cause of Allah. Here is the theological basis for today's suicide bombers.

      Quran (4:76) – "Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…"

      Quran (4:89) – "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks."

      Quran (4:95) – "Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward,-" This passage criticizes "peaceful" Muslims who do not join in the violence, letting them know that they are less worthy in Allah's eyes. It also demolishes the modern myth that "Jihad" doesn't mean holy war in the Quran, but rather a spiritual struggle. Not only is the Arabic word used in this passage, but it is clearly not referring to anything spiritual, since the physically disabled are given exemption. (The Hadith reveals the context of the passage to be in response to a blind man's protest that he is unable to engage in Jihad and this is reflected in other translations of the verse).

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

        @ what you wrote below------–
        "The historical context of this passage is not defensive warfare, since Muhammad and his Muslims had just relocated to Medina and were not under attack by their Meccan adversaries. In fact, the verses urge offensive warfare, in that Muslims are to drive Meccans out of their own city (which they later did)"----- You are partially correct and there is alot of inaccurate content in it. For one thing Muhammad (PBUH) and "his Muslims" were also Meccans. Muhammad (PBUH) was him self Meccan. Abu baker, Usman, Ali and huge number of Muslims were from Mecca. If you look at the Quranic text it says "drive those out who drove you out of your home". Muslims were freeing their own homeland at the first place. Also its really diengenous of you to quote Quran half way in the story. Why didnt you quote one verse before the one you started quoting? That verse says that non Muslim minority has 4 months to leave the holly city and even after this time if someone wants to visit holly city for getting educated about message of Islam they can do so in safety and protection that must be provided to them by Muslims and escorted back out of holly city to make sure no harm comes to non Muslims while they are in holy city. I guess that part of story is very important to quote else if you tell half story it really makes Muslims look super crazy.

        Also why you are putting things in brackets which are not part of Quran?

        July 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
      • Muhammad

        moorhamed
        Quran (3:151) – "Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority". This speaks directly of polytheists, yet it also includes Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be 'joining companions to Allah').
        -----------------------------–
        All the verses are talking about what happened in the battle of OHAD. It is not talking about Christians or Jewish people. Quran uses the phrase "AHLE KITAB" i.e. people of the book for Christians and Jews. Please don't impose your opinions on Quran. You are correct that we the Muslims believe that Christian people imposed divinity incorrectly on Jesus Peace be Upon Him who was a messenger a sin less MAN and a great great Messenger of God and Son of Marry with no father.

        July 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
      • moorhamed

        Quran (4:104) – "And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain..." Is pursuing an injured and retreating enemy really an act of self-defense?

        Quran (5:33) – "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement"

        Quran (8:12) – "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" No reasonable person would interpret this to mean a spiritual struggle.

        Quran (8:15) – "O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. (16)Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey's end."

        Quran (8:39) – "And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah" Some translations interpret "fitna" as "persecution", but the traditional understanding of this word is not supported by the historical context (See notes for 2:293, also). The Meccans were simply refusing Muhammad access to their city during Haj. Other Muslims were allowed to travel there – just not as an armed group, since Muhammad had declared war on Mecca prior to his eviction. The Meccans were also acting in defense of their religion, since it was Muhammad's intention to destroy their idols and establish Islam by force (which he later did). Hence the critical part of this verse is to fight until "religion is only for Allah", meaning that the true justification of violence was the unbelief of the opposition. According to the Sira (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 324) Muhammad further explains that "Allah must have no rivals."

        July 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
      • judy

        you are lost in your dellussions. seek the truth,instead of pedelling your verbal crapju

        July 16, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  12. SoldierOfFortunes

    This fool is on his way out...he's got a fetish with Hitler and all the torture chambers he masterfully hid for a bit...but this is 2012 bubba...we will find out all you do...and conspiring with Iran Supreme Leader? pull your pants up – your azz is showing...

    July 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  13. achepotler

    I have him in my Death Pool...not so much when as how...I say like Mussolini...from a bridge with his family and advisors...

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

      who else in in your death pool? (crazy person)

      July 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  14. GATORFANATIC

    @Saeed...you can't even type a logical sentence..go back to your camel herd

    July 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  15. SoldierOfFortunes

    Drowning Pool – Step Up

    July 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  16. Steve R.

    Thank you for painting the Arab/Muslim people as peace loving and level headed. I do agree that the West needs to butt out and quit sending money and troops to force our way of life down their throats. It would sure help our balance sheet if we weren't shelling out bunches of money to people who hate use and have no intention of fostering a peaceful society.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  17. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    It does not matter how long Assad hangs on. Syria is his country! It is his government! None of this is ours! We have no business intruding. For no reason should we concern ourselves with the problems of another country UNLESS it borders our country and the problem could spill over to us. We have enough domestic problems ourselves without spending our time, money, our military resources nor our "supposed" leaders. We need to solve America's problems and to let Assad solve Syria's problems. Those of us who continually yell "human rights" should look at the condition of our own backyard and stop imposing on others in the name of a political slogan!

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

      Yup you have used that excuse to not get involved before and what do you have to say when we don't involve ourselves-why don't we get involved? They are killing children.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  18. Anonymous

    saeed, you are one of the stupidest excuses for existence and one of the most disgusting. I hope you and your family rot.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  19. joel

    I agree with Norm. My first assessment of the Syrian situation is still accurate. This guy's eyes are too close together. He study to be an optometrist too. They think they are all related to Alex Ander the Great over there, and who is to say they aren't because Alexander the Great is usually in profile on old coins. My whole world is that guys eyes.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  20. ven

    Its their Nation and its their problem.We have N number of problems to solve in this nation.First,lets clear and work on our issues and later we can think of them.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  21. osamawazan

    Well done, Fareed! I like you bringing facts, sources, and your narrative in light of the data.

    I returned from Damascus over a month ago and arrived there three hours after an explosion went off.

    I think that Assad will hang on for as long as he is not convinced that his survival and the Alawites' are in jeopardy. He is holding on knowing full well that he and the Alawites will be shredded into pieces.

    I talked with rebels, a cleric, and one regime supporter formerly with the intelligence services.

    The rebels told me, "We don't want money. We want weapons." They erupted into loud rhetoric about how they will kill Assad and the Alawites. The description is too graphic to put here. Additionally, they have no understanding of the word democracy. Regrettably and on the contrary, their tears of mourning are dried by the thoughts of an escalated revenge. They, too, are committing acts of inhumanity against each other and others. The rate of crime had escalated, but no one is counting. Gone were those days when a lady could walk at 2 am alone. People are getting robbed, mugged, and assaulted daily. The country came undone in other ways as well. Syria, once a model for interfaith harmonic living, now resembles Jerusalem, the most sanctified city in the world in the sense that people migrated not only into sectarian, but also denominational clusters. They are seeking shelter in numbers and developed fear and prejudice toward others. The Jews in Damascus fled.

    I can go on. For more, please check my one paragraph note and picture on http://osamawazan.blogspot.com/

    Regards,
    Osama

    July 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  22. joel

    we have seen how america kills friends of the family with saddam, osama, and ghadaffi, let's all sit back and watch to maybe see how Russians kills friends of their family.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  23. Jamal Ahmed

    For few years; as long as there is Russian/ Chinese Veto and unwilling from NATO/ West to intervene.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • moorhamed

      Nina was right.
      Here comes the "dont get involved and worry about America" followed by"why are you not involved".
      Damned if we do, damned if we dont.
      There is no winning with muslims.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  24. Walter

    With all the help Assad is getting from Russia and Iraq, he'll be around for a long time.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  25. AgeofInsanity

    If Assad was smart he'd take his billions and get out otherwise he may end up like Gaddafi.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  26. Really757?

    I still trying to figure out why you guys even give saeed your thoughts. He's an absolute idiot.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • nina

      Is he your brother?

      July 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  27. joel

    really saeed, muslims are really cool people once you get to know them. Take for instance the huge protests in saudi arabia. there's some muslims that might change you mind a bit.

    July 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  28. saeed

    i am muslim yes we are the chosen ones and all americans and bankrupt christians shall pay!!!!!!!!!

    July 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • Norm

      ...yes saeed...PAY you a visit with a drone one night while you're sleeping.
      Did you know that your family is now considered "enemy combatants"?
      That includes your goats.
      I know they are more important than your wife and children.
      Sleep tight....

      July 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
    • Muhammad

      You are an idiot Islamophobic moron pretending to be a Muslim and yelling non sense.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
      • KATIE

        Liar, liar, pants on fire Muhammad.
        He is one of yours and you know it.

        July 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Star bucks

      You are a Zionist because you said that you are the chosen ones. Don't trick people! fox news!

      July 13, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  29. Norm

    When this world has had enough of Islam...it will be a simple matter to wipe it from the face of the earth.

    July 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • Jerry

      That won't be done by humanity.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
      • KATIE

        No, apparantly, muslims are killing muslims.
        Nobody need to do anything.
        Just let the butchers kill each other–in the name of allah!

        July 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
      • Star bucks

        Shiaa are killing Muslims not Muslims are killing Muslims.

        July 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
      • Star bucks

        Solly, forgot that Shia are muslim too.

        July 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
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