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. BeingHuman

    As long as he stays underground from Drone eyes..

    July 14, 2012 at 1:07 am | Reply
  2. Wake up

    Come on CNN. 15 Generals have defected so far. HEEELLLOOO!

    July 14, 2012 at 2:09 am | Reply
    • Edict

      Please list these 15 Generals.

      July 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  3. Billyone

    Very funny. Is there anything on-topic you wish to add that is worth replying to?

    July 14, 2012 at 3:37 am | Reply
  4. Jamal Ahmed

    Few words; ASSad regime is willing to kill 80% (15 Million) of the Syrian to stay in power. The bad news is that Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are supporting him. If there is no external support from the Free World he will last for few years and continue killing the Syrian people.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:52 am | Reply
    • Jack sheet

      It appears that two options are on the table: 1. Allow the situation to continue without foreign military intervention and see 80% of the people dead in a few years, or 2. Intervene militarily and see 80% of the people dead very quickly.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
      • johnDaryyl

        Always more than two options:
        1. Allow the situation to continue without foreign military intervention and see 80% of the people dead in a few years, or 2. Intervene militarily and see 80% of the people dead very quickly 3. Get our inteligence, our alCIAda out of there provoking all this and let the country recover with little harm. (I like the last option)

        July 14, 2012 at 8:39 am |
      • Katie

        ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhoooooooooooooooooooooooo johnDaryy made a little play on word.
        Ahahahahahahahaha
        He is still an islamic P.I.G.

        July 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Mladen

      80% of that 80% would rather have Assad then Salafist theocracy. Right now, rebels are busy killing every Sunni who dares to support regime, and refusing theocracy is considered "supporting regime". Think about: if Syria becomes democratic, Assad might be gone, but rebels paymasters in Saudi Arabia would be next.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  5. Sagittari

    You wish.. In fact, Syrians are killing Syrian children. Doesn't that say something to you?

    July 14, 2012 at 4:00 am | Reply
  6. Voiceinthedesert/Troubledgoodangel

    How long will Assad last? It's somewhat complicated eqution. Politically, it depends on what snaps first: the American patience, or the Russian hubris. In terms of physics, it will depedn on two things also, what snaps first, the neck of the rope! This is why it is paramount to stop the nightmare immediately! At issue are too many lives ... including Assad's! Assad musi być usunięty natychmiast. To on wzniecił ten pożar niemądrym rządzeniem! Życie jego i jego rodziny winno być zagwarantowane przez Rosję, która go broniła. Radzę zaaresztowanie go i umieszczenie na jednym z rosyjskich okrętów, wraz z rodziną i najbliższym okręgiem współpracowników. To co się stało, było zainicjowane impetem Wiosny Arabskiej. Potem zaczęła się gra w szachy "bloków" jeszcze pozostałych po upadku ZSSR. Rosja myślała, że wygra ... ale ludzie zaczęli umierać. Teraz Rosja wie, że tą grę przegrywa. Ani sekundy nie powinna zwlekać, ale ratować co można, ratowac niewinnych ludzi. To oznacza usunięcie Assada!

    July 14, 2012 at 4:38 am | Reply
    • Jack sheet

      Your suggestion makes sense except that I doubt Assad would be willing to move permanently (i.e. exiled) to Russia. Even though some Arabs (like Assad) like and trust the Russians, they dread the Russian climate and the Russian culture. It would be a good thing if it happens because it will pause the conflict , but I seriously doubt it. By the way, I say "pause" because when that happens it will be a short pause after which the conflict will start again, this time between different factions in the fight. If there is one good thing to be said about the Assads (father and son) it is that they created a relatively stable period in Syria's history through an iron fist rule (which is the only way Arabs understand).

      July 14, 2012 at 7:50 am | Reply
  7. Brian

    Saeed,
    get your facts straight. The world is going bankrupt not just USA and Britain. Pay attention to Spain. Your threats are useless. How many muslims like you are going to have to be on the end of a predator strike to realize you're veiws are as corrupt as your countries. I spit on you and allah. Enjoy you;re 72 virgins.. to bad they are the rest of the dumb "martyrs" that went before you while your Sheiks have all the ladies for themselves. open your eyes you pathetic sand jockey.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:38 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      Saeed, your kin is still out in left field munching on grass obvious that they are being fatten for feast.
      I can hear them now "baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh".

      July 14, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
  8. toby

    This is the first time I've visited Fareed's site in a long time. From the quality of the HYS contributions, it will be the last time.

    Not only are the vast majority of posts moronic, they are also inhumanly bloodthirsty.

    Well done, Fareed. Your contribution to "journalism" has been to feed hate, war and terrorism.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:04 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      and you are an angel?

      July 14, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
  9. todd

    Too Seeed, I say just stand back and let the freaking arabs kill each other. We do not have to do anything, you will do it for us, so how smart are you and yours?

    July 14, 2012 at 7:33 am | Reply
  10. 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.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

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

      Typical muslim, repeat a lie until they themselves believe it,

      July 14, 2012 at 10:20 am | Reply
  11. Chris

    "Saeed" lol pathetic muslim terrorist, Islamic ideology will be destroyed you piece of junk. get read for war, which you are prescribed to lose since the beginning

    July 14, 2012 at 8:08 am | Reply
    • AlexandertheGreat

      hehehehehe...

      July 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  12. eightfour

    Assad can hang on for a very long time. The real question is how long can the USA hang on?

    July 14, 2012 at 8:19 am | Reply
  13. eightfour_punjabi

    btw this Fareed Zakaria is actually the son of a hermaphrodite and gypsy rapist.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:25 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      You are idiotic, daft, senseless, ignorant, ...

      July 14, 2012 at 10:22 am | Reply
  14. johnDaryyl

    I sure like to believe what Fareed Zakaria has to say, he never has any alterior motives. The groups he answers to are an honest bunch as well (CFR, UN) with no NWO agenda I am sure. I know this because of his smile. People who smile and have charisma are always honest...

    July 14, 2012 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      You are idiotic, daft, senseless, ignorant, moronic,...

      July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
  15. jo_smith

    propaganda at work...
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/12/syrian-opposition-doing-the-talking

    July 14, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
  16. chuck

    Where was Syria during our civil war?
    We could have really used some help down here against northern aggressors!

    July 14, 2012 at 9:01 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      Who's civil war?

      July 14, 2012 at 10:24 am | Reply
  17. ron

    OMG. Looks like perfect setup for war for us. Reminds me of the Iraq invasion we bought a few years ago.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:21 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      Dear allah, save us from these idiotic, daft, senseless, ignorant, moronic...

      July 14, 2012 at 10:24 am | Reply
  18. mikrik13

    Hang on? Are you kidding. He is ruling Syria.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
  19. Shami Shaghoori

    The question is: why the world has choosen Kofi Annan to solve the Syrian Conflict, as he had a famous failure in 1995 in Bosnia to stop the Ethnic Cleansing? What are the similarities between Bosnia and Syria???

    July 14, 2012 at 10:09 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      You are Idiotic, daft, senseless, uninformed, moronic, senseless, stupid…

      July 14, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
      • Richard Diamond

        By calling names which is an ad hominem argument you are showing that you cannot give a rational argument back and stoop to the level of a pre-teen who just likes to call names when no valid argument is available.

        July 14, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
      • nina

        The truth can be painful.
        Stupid is as stupid does Richard.

        July 15, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  20. Fredsta

    I now believe Assad when he says of his security forces, "They are not my forces." He and Asma are effectively hostages of a pathocracy—an organized anarchy of some seriously sick f***s, who call themselves Shabiha, or Cbihh.
    They say, "Assad [stays], or the country burns." They mean it. They will destroy Syria, before they loose their hold on power. When the rightful leaders of Free Syria win, and they will, we won't need prison cells for Cbihh, we'll need padded cells.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:21 am | Reply
    • Steadfast Muslim Jihadist

      Typical muslims.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
  21. alumette

    it's people like you that poison the barrel of apples. I feel sorry for you. So much hatred and misunderstanding. These people are dying trying to help your people. Don't you get it ? really.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • Match

      really?

      July 14, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
  22. Peteinsc

    My Muslim friends are realizing that Israel, warts and all, is the country in the Mideast that does put a value on human life.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • yuri pelham

      Quality of life for Arab Muslim citizens in Israel dwarfs the other Arab states. And that's one of many reasons Israel is not tolerated. It's too humiliating.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  23. a hebe

    saeed you are no idiot you're just a hateful moron, keep your hatred and soak it up and it'll kill you soon enough, hopefully sooner than later.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
  24. 0hmama

    Saeed and Asad both of you go to HEll, sooner than later

    July 14, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
  25. 0hmama

    hey Saeed you and your Asad deserve what Qudafi got a stick up yours till comes out of filthy mouth. you are a dirty criminal like that ugly Asad

    July 14, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
  26. a hebe

    as long as that talking head Kofi Annan is mediating there will not be any solution to the civil war in Syria, barking without a bite is useless it's actually laughable; all of the threats and so on. all that talk and the murders go on and on....

    July 14, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  27. PCT1999

    As long as we keeps aaying you had better not be doing that anymore.or ELSE. That's how long he will hang on. He KNOWS it's a bluff

    July 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
    • Edict

      Did you know that LILO wants to know when the US will put boots on the ground?
      I wish muslims would make up their mind.

      July 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  28. sadpandaa92

    Saeed kill children you say, you fit right in with assad and his ethics.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  29. Mladen

    Syria would sooner break then become Salafist and rebels are dominated by Salafist. Opposition broke on two groups: one accepting Assad's program of democratization and other siding with rebels who insist on regime change (and purge of government supporters). So far, regime is winning on battlefield... Unless some political (election first) solution is found, don't count on quick regime removal without Western military intervention.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
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