Will Syria be the next Lebanon?
August 3rd, 2012
09:38 AM ET

Will Syria be the next Lebanon?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Kofi Annan’s resignation as the U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy is a blow to any hopes that the situation in Syria could go down a stable path. It has also dashed hopes that an early route could be found to an inclusive government that could oversee decreasing levels of violence. Annan represented the possibility of something positive for Syria, and his departure is a sign that things are going to continue to spiral downwards.

There are two basic problems in Syria – an internal and an external political divide. The internal divide is evident every day. We have a brutal regime that is using maximum force, one that is making no concessions and that is simply holding onto power by any means possible. That is the principle problem in Syria, and one that can only be resolved if Bashar al-Assad and the people around him are deposed from power.

But there’s also a sectarian problem in Syria as is evidenced by the fact that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the population, don’t seem to have joined the opposition. The Alawites, of course, who make up about 12 percent of Syria, are sticking with the Alawite-dominated regime. But the Christians appear to be doing so as well, for fear of what would happen to them in a majoritarian and more Islamist Syria. Other Syrian minorities such as the Kurds also don’t seem part of the Free Syria Army.

Right now, the battle is between an Alawite regime and a Sunni opposition. If this conflict really does become increasingly sectarian in nature, then we really may have even greater problems ahead. Think of the example of Iraq, where a Sunni-dominated regime was toppled, but then unleashed sectarian conflict.

What Syria needs is an end to the Assad regime but then some kind of political deal between the old and new guard. The core elements of the regime would have to step down or be ousted. But the opposition would also need to accept a post-al-Assad scenario in which some elements of the old system are kept in place, if only so that those elements don’t fight until the bitter end.

The second divide is the external divide, between the West on one side and China, Russia and Iran on the other. The Chinese, Russians and most importantly the Iranians are supporting the regime for different reasons. For the Iranians, Syria is their strongest ally and proxy in the region. Tehran is all in – it has bet on this regime, which is a source of regional influence, and so it has tried to prop it up. There’s a sectarian element to this – the Iranians see the Alawites as a quasi-Shiite regime. (Incidentally, this is why the Shiite prime minister of Iraq has also been somewhat supportive of the Syrian regime, an irony for those expecting him to support the American – or the humanitarian – position.)

The Russians and Chinese, meanwhile, support the regime as much as anything because they don’t believe the West should have the authority to topple regimes it doesn’t like. They feel that the West exceeded its mandate in Libya and, most of all, they don’t like the idea of establishing a principle of international law under which if a regime is suppressing its own people, outside forces can come in and topple it. After all, what happens the next time there are protests against the Kremlin in Moscow?

In fact, the Russians don’t really have very deep ties to the Syrians, while the Chinese have almost none. With this in mind, you’d have thought it might be possible to have the Security Council come together and put more pressure on the Syrian regime, something which would then isolate Iran as the lone sponsor of the brutal crackdown. But clearly the Russians and Chinese have dug their heels in.

So, where does that leave us? I’ve always believed that Syria would see a slow, painful burn. The regime will not fall easily and there’s no easy international intervention that that will make it fall. And when it does fall, it is unlikely that we will see a relatively stable transition to a post-al-Assad democratic Syria. Instead, what you’re likely to see is more of the same – a very messy situation that may well resemble the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s. Then, we had a conflict that went on for years without a clear resolution and left the country to become a staging ground for perpetual violence. I fear the same fate might befall Syria, too.

Post by:
Topics: Arab Spring • Middle East • Russia • Syria • United Nations

soundoff (265 Responses)
  1. Syrian American

    I beg to differ with you Zakaria. The conditions in which the conflict is being played out in Syria are entirely different than those in Lebanon. Lebanon's war was secular and ethnic in nature where multiple ethnic groups were fighting each other Christian against Christian, Muslim against Muslim... However, that is not the case in Syria where all ethnic groups are fighting to oust a dictator!

    August 7, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
    • Adam

      You got that wrong, you mean the Syrian people are fighting the Arabs from the Gulf to stop them from invading. How do you explain Turkish, Libyan,Tunisian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Iraki, Saoudi, Qatari, Pakistani, American, Israeli and European fighting in Syria??!?!?

      August 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
      • Syrian American

        Those are good Samaritans who are saving the Syrian people from Bashar's meat grinder...

        August 8, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  2. Dave

    This is an Arab League problem. Let them deal with it. I just am trying to figure out how Syrians can blame the U.S. or Israel for their problems.

    August 7, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  3. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Either way it will end, as it is planned, hindu's criminals of the wast assume,it will work to their advantage, rest assured, fist phase of war is to eliminate hindu's, criminals appointed by hinu's criminals of the west, as leaders of Muslim world after seconf world war , and next will be elimination of hindu Jew's, criminal secular s and their hindu Judaism, filthy self center ism, denial of truth absolute along with their hindu gentiles terrorist slaves of the west, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    August 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  4. sid rush

    Assad/Bath party will survive because army is loyal to Assad. KSA and Qatar started on behest of USA to downgrade military capability of Syria( help Israel). One by one all armies of 73 war are decimated( Iraq, Libiya, now Syria). Now Iran plus Basra plus Damascus plus Southern Lebanon is almost Iranian axis. Any fragmentation will lead to break up of Iraq since Kurds will unit to fight against Turkey. Unless there is wholesale invasion by Turks, nothing will happen since part of lebanon and [art of Iraq still supports Syria. If there is regional war, Shia of gulf will rise and KSA will burn also. I can see every one killing each other for 5-10 years and Israel and US will pick up the oil fields, that is why Russia does not want US domination. What out for India in the mix when whole region gets into rat hole, Indians have enough population to control UAE and others.

    August 8, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      It makes Pakistan the lynch pin, not so easy to crack this nut, nuclear Pakistan is the balancing force in the region, and an obstacle to implement hindu criminal designs of hindu's, terrorist of the west and the east to spread hindu Judaism, filthy secularism around the globe, working very had to destabilize Pakistan.

      August 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  5. Leave Syria Alone

    Who has contributed to the Libanization of Syria? The West did and this knucklehead Fareed Zakaria along with CNN has its share as well. They've turned prosperous country into a living hell and nightmare. They are supporting Al Qaeda terrorists despite of public and loud reports that they are there, they are supporting explosions, killing of innocent civilians, they are supporting everything that should not be supported. Syrian people will never see the peace again as did Iraqi, Afghani and Libyan people.. Unless Russia makes bold statement NOW. Perpetual turmoil in the region is their ultimate goal so they keep quietly exploiting country's natural resources and the same time prepare ground for invasion in another oil rich stronghold – Iran. Wake up people!

    August 9, 2012 at 1:01 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      You might like to consider that Syrians and their government is what happened to Syria. Blaming every body else is unreal.

      August 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  6. china and russia have alot more to loose

    i think this notion of China and Russia being against any real resolution in the UN is clearly being misread here. its important to consider that China has one of the biggest number of Muslims residing in any country in the world. Russia on the other hand has Chechnya right at its boarders, which is predominantly Muslims. After seeing how a youth revolution was overtaken by The Muslim Brotherhoods of countries like Egypt, Libya, Morocco (although not a revolution here) its logical to see how China and Russia would be worried about their own set of revolutions, uprisings, protest, etc... seeing the Muslims gaining ground and becoming stronger it would be in their best interest to try to limit it. That is the major reason for their stand against any action in Syria, not to be just defiant against the West.

    August 9, 2012 at 3:48 am | Reply
  7. Travis In Soviet Occupied New England

    Ah another middle-brow editorial by Fareed Zakaria. Can we get someone who actually knows something about International Relations writing these articles CNN?

    August 9, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
  8. dennis bausch

    the big difference between syria and lebanon is that syria has a totalitarin despot as a ruler, and lebanon was a democracy

    August 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  9. Nice Bloke

    Very good and thought provoking article.

    August 13, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
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