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. Edward

    As long as he gets support from different corners – moral and in form of weapons! What a question?

    July 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • alumette

      He will go down. It may take longer but he will not be able to recover form this slaughter. The country will not let him. He is a dead man, if not soon, soon enough. The opposition is now almost in charge of the country except where Assad has a strong hold. He is losing....have you noticed his people leaving him ? that's a clue.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
    • reason

      It seems that this support you speak of is starting to dwindle. Russia has already begun to restrict shipments to Syria (a close ally, as you know). The regime can not last forever under this kind of pressure.

      July 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  2. Gregory Faith

    Here's my two cents, WACK HIM CIA! Gadafi, SADAM, |BIN LADEN, ETC. TAKE HIM OUT!!

    July 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  3. gab

    how the hell they allowed you to post that, Funny how every country hates the USA but as soon as your attack you ask for help from the USA.

    July 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  4. human

    Saeed. You are beyond an idiot. It's interesting though to wonder if this is a muslim person. What if it's a person wanting to make muslim people look bad by writing something has horrible as this. It does not matter in the end because whoever wrote this is not a human being.

    July 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      Calling yourself "human" followed by the slimy way to try and extricate Saeed from the grave he has dug himself into.
      Are you Saeed's mother?

      July 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  5. Rickard

    He's being protected by Russia, who alone could manage that indefinately. But also Brazil, South America, China. You stupid Americans just can't stay out and deal with your own massive problems.

    July 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      You stupid muslims cannot stop killing each other.(Islam the religion of peace!!!!!)

      July 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
      • Seth

        Any you know he's Muslim because....?

        July 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
      • Muhammad

        killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all of humanity."

        Islam is a religion of Peace. It doesn't mean Muslims who chose not to follow Islam are peaceful. Hittler doesn't make Christianity violent and Assad dosn't make islam violent either. Those are 2 individuals doing what they want not what their religion demands them

        July 13, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
      • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

        Tabari 7:97 The morning after the murder of Ashraf, the Prophet declared, "Kill any Jew who falls under your power." Ashraf was a poet, killed by Muhammad's men because he insulted Islam. Here, Muhammad widens the scope of his orders to kill. An innocent Jewish businessman was then slain by his Muslim partner, merely for being non-Muslim.
        Tabari 9:69 "Killing Unbelievers is a small matter to us" The words of Muhammad, prophet of Islam.
        Tabari 17:187 "'By God, our religion (din) from which we have departed is better and more correct than that which these people follow. Their religion does not stop them from shedding blood, terrifying the roads, and seizing properties.' And they returned to their former religion." The words of a group of Christians who had converted to Islam, but realized their error after being shocked by the violence and looting committed in the name of Allah. The price of their decision to return to a religion of peace was that the men were beheaded and the woman and children enslaved by the caliph Ali.
        Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 327: – “Allah said, ‘A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land. Muhammad, you craved the desires of this world, its goods and the ransom captives would bring. But Allah desires killing them to manifest the religion.’”

        Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 990: – Lest anyone think that cutting off someone's head while screaming 'Allah Akbar!' is a modern creation, here is an account of that very practice under Muhammad, who seems to approve.

        Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 992: – "Fight everyone in the way of Allah and kill those who disbelieve in Allah." Muhammad's instructions to his men prior to a military raid.

        July 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
      • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

        Muslim (20:4645) – "...He (the Messenger of Allah) did that and said: There is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred (higher), and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth. He (Abu Sa'id) said: What is that act? He replied: Jihad in the way of Allah! Jihad in the way of Allah!"

        Muslim (20:4696) – "the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: 'One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire (or determination) for Jihid died the death of a hypocrite.'"

        Muslim (19:4321-4323) – Three separate hadith in which Muhammad shrugs over the news that innocent children were killed in a raid by his men against unbelievers. His response: "They are of them (meaning the enemy)."

        Muslim (19:4294) – "When the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him... He would say: Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war... When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them.

        July 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • georgeandraymond

      Oh thats right, I forgot the "muslim brotherhood" is so good at solving their own problems that every time there is one the U.S has to solve it for them. What is going on in Syria is a civil war. Muslims are killing other Muslims. The U.S. should stay out of it.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  6. allenwoll

    " How long can Assad hang on ? ? "

    Is that AFTER he is hung ? ?

    July 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  7. Big Bushy Mustache

    Well how many people are left to kill? He will run-out soon.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      The only one who can answer the question of Assad's longevity is Assad.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  8. Paul1121

    That is really sad for you saying that. You pray for more killing while the rest of the world wants peace in Syria. The US and UK are far from being bankrupt and it would be a sad day when US bombs reins down on you.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  9. Big Bushy Mustache

    His British wife must be the dumbest woman on the planet next to Dottie Sandusky.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • Bebe LaRue

      That is so low to insult the man's wife.
      So genius, why is she dumb?

      July 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • rosie

      She married a rich man that had a country to himself. What was not to like? That he turned out to be like all dictators is no surprise to us. she probably still loves him. Not for us to judge her motives or intelligence.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  10. POD

    Until someone shoots him......or he moves to Paris

    July 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  11. Redeye Dog

    "How long can al-Assad hang on?"

    Ask Hillary – She said, "until the sand runs out of the hour-glass."

    July 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  12. Kill all terrorists

    QQ you're an idiot like saeed. After saeeds comments you want to passively debate him/her ? You must be living under a rock.....Endorsing murdering children is a terrorist act in itself, so do you want to debate him or shoot him ? Terrorists only respect the gun and no one else.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  13. Kill all terrorists

    QQ you're an idiot like saeed. After saeeds comments you want to passively debate him/her ? You must be living under a rock.....Endorsing murdering children is a terrorist act in itself, so do you want to debate him or shoot him ? Terrorists only respect the gun and no one else!

    July 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  14. rosie

    Knowing that Assad will be replaced by someone as ruthless as himself there is really no need to hurry him out. People will die whether he stays or goes. I think he should be gone but I know that nothing will change for the better.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      It all depends on your definition of "better".

      July 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply

    Let Assad kill the islamist jihadists. At least we won't be the target for a while. I'm surprised Russia didn't learn much from our mistakes. A little military base in the portion of the world isn't worth the risk of dealing with a part of the world that has far too many religious loons.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • Muhammad

      So as long as a dictator labels his opposition "Islamic Jihadist" we should support him without investigating killing of civilians? Thank God you are not running Ammerica's foreign policy in this matter.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
      • georgeandraymond

        Sorry but history in this part of the world has taught us that if these people are not killing each other they will be killing us.

        July 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm |

        Oh I'm aware they aren't all jihadists or islamists, but Egypt made it clear who the west has to choose from in the ME. It's either the brutal secular military dictators or islamists which are at least partly backed by the Saudis. The more I see salafists march for killing Jews and Americans; the less I care for us getting involved in the slightest. It's about time we start telling the Arab Muslims exactly why they will never see peace; foreign influence, jewish state, or not.

        July 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      You little slimy jihadist.
      Who do you think you are fooling?

      July 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  16. how long

    longer than the thieving 1% can keep up their sharade.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  17. Andrew

    Kill that POS!

    July 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  18. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    With the UN – Small Arms Treaty
    where ONLY governments have guns
    until the money runs out...

    July 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      from Texas you say?

      July 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  19. Paul1121

    OK, playing devil's advocate here. Since the terrorists are attacking the peace loving people of Syria, Assad is justified in doing what he needs to do to protect his people. If that includes shooting artillery at his own people.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  20. mynamewas

    This is a dangerous situation. If the regime falls, the West may have to watch helplessly as the Sunnis murder the Alawites. There is never a good solution to such messes and Iraq was another example. Such regimes are/were bad but they maintain/ed some order and kept the Islamists at bay.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  21. blayzekohime

    Going by the way Western media has covered other conflicts (compared to what we found out later), he's probably hanging on a lot better than articles like these make out. Besides that, like in most conflicts in the MidEast area, the rebels are not really any better than the government they are fighting. They just want to be in charge and do the same things.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
    • georgeandraymond

      I agree.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
      • Very Thick Red Beard

        Who's agreeing, George or Raymond?

        July 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • TrueGrissel

      He will fall and Syria will still kill each other.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  22. charles bowen

    Assassinate Assad Today and Make the Devil Go Away..... DEath is too good for this Pig Assad . Best Regards and have a nice day......Banned On CNN..... Charlas Bowen Solomon Stone

    July 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  23. basebolg


    You're sad, and your genocidal wishes are disgusting. With what respect is due to you, and there is not much, it is Arab Islamic civilization that is collapsing and bankrupt, not the West.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  24. georgeandraymond

    How long will he hang on? Until he runs out of people for his supporters to shoot or until those people kill all of the people that are trying to kill them.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  25. validate

    the answer is obvious....assad will depart when he is captured or killed, and he will mudre as many sunni syrians as possible in the meantime....he has no place to go, except a jail cell or gallows, so why not fight on? he has nothing to lose anymore....and that is that.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  26. JerPell

    The real question is...How long can Obama hang on?....He is absolutely destroying America!

    July 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  27. arik

    Where arethe Arab leaders? why we don't hear their voices load and clear? like we ear them when israel is in a conflict to protect their citizens from the deadly Islam?

    July 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  28. ricksta

    Why is the West supporting Al Queda in Syria?

    July 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      Oh Really????
      Tell us more.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  29. svann

    From what Ive read the rebels hold relatively insignificant areas of the country so Id guess he could hold out until there was an invasion.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  30. Patrish

    My heart is with the Syrian people. How terrible for most of the innocent victims. He will fall – now is not soon enough!

    July 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • Very Thick Red Beard

      and your stomach is full of camel steaks.

      July 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Reply
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