What if al-Assad prevails?
May 30th, 2013
10:51 AM ET

What if al-Assad prevails?

By Charles Dunne, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Charles Dunne is the director Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House. The views expressed are his own.

Let’s imagine a world in which Bashar al-Assad wins a military victory, remains in power, and defies the world to deal with him. Because, unfortunately, it appears to be an all too plausible scenario.

An influx of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, and support from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has intensified fighting along the strategic corridor from Qusayr to Damascus. Reported use of chemical weapons, most probably by the Syrian government, has crossed a red line that the U.S. government has ignored, and thus sent a clear and discouraging message to the opposition. Hezbollah commander Hassan Nasrallah, for his part, said in a May 26 television address that Hezbollah would beat down al-Assad's opponents and stay in Syria as long as it needed to do it. “We will continue this road until the end, we will take the responsibility and we will make all the sacrifices,” Nasrallah said. “We will be victorious.”

Indeed, the head of German intelligence now estimates al-Assad’s rule is more stable than any time in the last two years, and he is likely to retake the southern half of the country by the end of this year.

Gerhard Schindler used graphics and maps in a meeting with select politicians “to demonstrate that Assad’s troops once again possess effective supply lines to ensure sufficient quantities of weapons and other materiel,” Der Spiegel reported. “Fuel supplies for tanks and military aircraft, which had proved troublesome, are once again available, Schindler reported. The new situation allows Assad’s troops to combat spontaneous rebel attacks and even retake positions that were previously lost.”

More from CNN: McCain visits rebels

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, pushing a peace conference at some point in the future, said in Amman on May 22 that “We don’t need more proof that now is the time to act…What we need to do is act.”


The fact is that the lack of U.S. action, especially compared with the energetic involvement of Iran and Hezbollah, amounts to an abdication of responsibility.

An al-Assad victory will lead to a more militant Syria, critically dependent upon Iran and Hezbollah. The Syrian state, if it can remain unified (a big if) will be gripped by sectarian tensions and vengeance killings, not unlike Iraq in 2006-07. The country is likely to remain a playground for terrorists, many of whom were, ironically, permitted free access by the al-Assad regime to fight Americans in Iraq. Now they’re coming back to fight against al-Assad’s regime.

And don’t forget the impact on the Middle East “peace process”: a wounded Syria, on which so much depends, will be unable to negotiate a peace with Israel, and indeed may be tempted to intensify hostilities to gather credibility at home.

Finally, Iran will gain the upper hand in a shadow war with the Persian Gulf States and their ally, the United States.  This is no small victory in a struggle for power in the region that has been going on since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

America has so far provided $510 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria and $250 million in support to the Syrian Opposition and Supreme Military Council. This intervention is useful, but will have a limited impact on the ground. The United States must take a harder line on this conflict: arming vetted elements of the opposition, creating militarily-enforced humanitarian corridors, and above all a no-fly zone, will make a real difference. Calling out the Russians in their cynical support for al-Assad, to whom they’re sending advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles while calling for an international peace conference and decrying the lapse of the EU’s arms embargo to Syrian rebels, would be a good step too.

Doing little or nothing, as the United States is now, is no longer an option – at least, it’s not one that will in any way save Syrian lives or help protect U.S. interests.

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soundoff (322 Responses)
  1. Whatif

    The article is clearly is biased in all aspect of journalism. From content all the way to the conclusions, it does not even attempt to decry the dangers associated with fundamentalist rebels within the rebels' camps. What is known is Assad have and still committing atrocities and so too are the rebels who will replace him if he loose. So who else is committing atrocities, Saudi's by clamping down on their internal dissidents, Qataris, Turkish governments as well ; both of them support the rebels and allied with the West. Their atrocities don't seemed to be talked about as much.

    This war has little to do with democracy for the outside parties such as Russia, EU, US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc but a mere struggle of influence in the region. For the Syrian people it depends on who you talk to, chances are even if the war stopped and they have "free" elections, Assad (allowed to run) might still win because the opposition is so fractured than those bombed out cities in Syria.

    The author seemed to completely ignore the fact that the rebels have been supplied and at times trained by allied countries. There is a report that CIA already has presence inside Syria for some time now. Russia and Iran are doing exactly the same thing. S-300 missile system is an air defense and it's primary objective would be to deter aggressive action by external forces not rebels.

    And if we support the rebel militarily and they win, we'll get something similar to Libya but close to Iraq, a country that has continuous internal strife and sectarian carnage. Democracy is not something that is learned overnight, people will continue to suffer way after this war is over.

    June 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Reply
    • Albert H.

      When I read the word "unfortunately" within this sentence "Because, unfortunately, it appears to be an all too plausible scenario." it was clear that the article is biased, but we can not ask for unbiased point of view in a blog can we?

      June 3, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • ify

      America going again to the middle east.after their thankless loss of human diplomatic and materials at Iraq and Libya? The same people that were thanking the US for removing Saddam and Gaddafi are now the ones fighting the US in Afghanistan.where is Amb Christopher of Lbya? .America lost over 7,000 men in the middle east.These men could have given birth to at least 3 children each giving 21,000plus 7000All these and their contribution to the growth of the US economy and the world All lost for a people that will never appreciate or brink to kill you.look money cannot buy love.Experience is the best teacher. I do not know of any type of arms that the Saudis and Qataris don't have ,I don't see the money that the Saudis and Qataris do not have to give to the rebels, the Saudis and Qataris are not democratic countries the rebels are not democratic .What is Americas interest.I know the greatest beneficiary will be Iran.With Hezbollah.and Hamas combining to attack Israel from Gaza and Golan height. Israel will be fighting from two fronts.

      July 31, 2013 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • Olim

      Very wise comment! CNN really needs to find the real reporters if it wants to do true journalism. Such a low article. What we have to understand is who is better for Syrian people living there! Not for us. Current president or the rebels( including jihadists). This fight is not about democracy and freedom. It's a fight between secularism and sharia system of governing.

      July 31, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
      • Eldon Cordrey

        CNN is full of U.S. propaganda. Most appear to be able to see that from their comments at least. Everything here should be understood as biased and based on a Liberal american perspective.

        August 10, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Mark Rushing

      I am an American and I do not believe that President Assad should be harmed by US policies. Obama has proved time and again that he favors Muslim extremism (Brotherhood) and has supported them first in Libya then in Egypt and now in Syria. The human suffering is a sad aspect of war but placing the Muslim Brotherhood in power again is out of the question. Obama needs to mind his own business and stop promoting his communist and Muslim agendas around the world and fix the financial problems he has created here at home. When all liberal medias are against Assad, that tells me that he is doing something right and I hope that he wins this fight. Western media is biased and serves a socialist agenda. The media backing Obama's election despite his non-qualifications is an example. Obama is nothing more than a community activist and communist agitator. He should not be dabbling in Syrian affairs. Everything he has done thus far has been disastrous, Syria will not be any different and if he insists on meddling, I hope that he is tried as a war criminal.

      August 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  2. Craig sanes

    Giving military assistance to the rebels at this juncture would be like giving Lyme disease to a malaria patient in an unquarantined hotbed full of ticks. I thought we learned this lesson in Somalia and Panama, to name a couple....guess not.

    June 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  3. Edward D.

    What and extremely biased article. The author seems to ignore the fact that the rebels (who aren't syrian by the way) used sarin gas and that they massacre Syrian Shias, Alawis, and Christians on a daily basis. Who is it that is destroying Syria's heritage sites? Rebels! Why the west is supporting them is beyond me. Shame on CNN for posting such rubbish.

    June 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Reply
    • Aisha

      You forgot to mention that those bandits are also attacking SUNNIS too. They decapitated many many Sunnis sheiks in mosques, not to mention the oodles of bodies of women and children blaming it all on the regime. Those bandits took off faucets and sinks from people's home in Aleppo, what's good going to do them? Trade it for arms in Turkey? Nothing but destruction & destruction and McCain adopt this destruction and chaos. The opposition is corrupt from day one doesn't give a damn about people or country, only money and 5 stars hotels. What a sad reality. We loose a civilization for greed.

      June 3, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  4. JAGEN

    If a group of people take arms against the US Government, what should or will the US Government do? Obviously, it will fight back, capture, or destroy such a group. It is the same with the Syrian government. The protestors took arms first. These protestors are the terrorists. Unfortunately, the US government is encouraging the chaos by sending weapons, supplies, etc. Thanks to people like McCain. We are blessed that he did not become president in 2008.

    June 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • Vic

      I agree with you 100%. The fact is this happend to US in 1800 where the Southern states rose up and the government fought back costing us over a million casualities. Today we praise President Lincoln for keeping US together and consider him the most important president.

      June 3, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  5. Vic

    The answer to this question is very simple. Syria will be just like before. A Syria where there is peace and safety for all its citizens. The people of Syria will continue to receive free education until college, free health care, free infrastructure, no personal taxes (Yes I said no taxes!), free parks, beaches and roads ( no entrance fee). Some markets are free and some controlled by the government. Some government heads are corrupt and some are so so (just like US and Europe). There will be no complete freedom, but not like what has been described in the western media. For example, If you happen to grab a can of paint and spray on the wall " Assad, we will kill you, your wife, your children and your mother" chances are your will be arrested, roughed up, and jailed, So don't do it. Other than that you will be okay. One must read history of Syria to know why things are the way they are. They tried democracy in the 1950's and based on the results they decided to move to consitutional government. If you want to know about Syria, please don't base it on CNN specials. I stopped trusting western media on foreign news long time ago.

    What is happeing in Syria today is a foriegn controlled and funded minority forcing its will on the majority. This is why none of the major Syria cities rose up where 80% of the population lives in Syria. The rebels had to take their fight into the cities so they can hide amongst the civilians, and disrupt the normal lives of civilains and force them to be in the middle.

    Ask any Syrian civilian these days and they will take the Syria before ANYday !!.What matters here is what Syrian's think and want.

    June 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • sami fadel

      sound analysis, thanks

      June 6, 2013 at 1:09 am | Reply
    • Mark Rushing

      Well said Vic.. Westerner do not trust western media (except the dumb one anyway) Our media is nothing but a socialist propaganda machine adn rarely tells the truth. They always show bias even while professing their journalistic integrity. It is garbage and I truly hope that President Assad wins this fight and the Syrian people can once again enjoy peace and be free of foreign jihadis that truly care nothing about the people of Syria. All the so called Arab Spring was a bunch of jihadis overthrowing legitimate governments so they can install Sharia law and be militants with a state. Obama supported these criminals and I hope that he is tried as a war criminal for his part in overthrowing the governments of Libya, Egypt and attempting the same in Syria.

      August 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  6. Hashman

    I don't understand why we are in favor of the Syrian opposition. They seem more religiously conservative than Asad.
    At least with him we know what we're dealing with, but the opposition is a total toss up. They could go hard core Jihad on us once in power.

    I guess Israel realized that – and what better way for them put an end to the Syrian opposition than to appear to be on their side.

    I also don't understand why the media is depicting the Iranians as being big Assad supporters. It's well known in the middle-east that Iranians and Ba'ths don't get along ideologically. If the Iranians are throwing some support behind Assad its probably just because they too know what they're dealing with in the opposition. A while back there were indications that the Iranians were trying to reach out to the opposition to get a sense of what they're on about.

    June 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  7. Laden

    Geopolitics normally has some strange undercurrents that are invisible at first and then manifest themselves later. I refer to the jockeying for control and influence by countries outside the Syria conflict. If the Syrian government wins this "war" the enemies of Syria will be forced to go to the bargain table to "discuss" the issues. This will be good for all and sundry.
    But some may argue that then Assad will have the upper hand in the "talks". May we be honest: the powerful even among democracies, do have the upper hand in negotiations!!!!!!!
    Syria will be no different.

    June 4, 2013 at 12:01 am | Reply
  8. Mom

    I do not agree with you in all this. You need to answer this and apply to Syria where is Libya now?

    June 4, 2013 at 2:43 am | Reply
  9. Obama Has Read the Art of War

    Barry knows best. He's a step ahead of all of you. He knows the obvious: his haters will criticize him for not acting and then turn around and ridicule him for "secretly conducting a war" behind his back. The muslim world will hate the west no matter what since the sunni/shiite fight is the west's and the jews' fault, but they'll also criticize him for not intervening. But Barry knows best. He knows that Assad's investors can't afford to keep him afloat indefinately. The only thing more powerful than the U.S. military is the U.S. economy. Bin Laden knew this and so does Barry. All he has to do is keep the rebels grinding away. Both sides are enemies of the west. Neither side has the capacity to carry out attacks on the west while they are caught up in civil war. Barry knows this. Give the American boys a break. Let the rabid dogs tear themselves to pieces. The best way to defeat your enemy is without fighting. Barry knows.

    June 4, 2013 at 3:07 am | Reply
  10. Soso Bim

    The real reasons for the 9 11 attacks:

    Osama bin Laden and the jihadists in Afghanistan were friends of the United States.United States armed jihadists against the Soviet occupation.After the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1988, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, then the U. S sent 500,000 troops to the Holy Land for Muslims "Saudi Arabia."Then became Osama bin Laden and the jihadists " Very angry from the U.S " . U.S. soldiers in the holy land for Muslims was an insult to Muslims." If Muslims were sent Muslim army to occupy the State of the Vatican," the Holy Land for Christians " then Christians will get angry and send the Army for the Liberation of the Vatican."Osama bin Laden and the jihadists have become the enemies of the U. S after the American occupation of the Holy Lands "Saudi Arabia." Osama bin Laden asked Americans to withdraw from Saudi Arabia, but America rejected, then bin Laden began to launch attacks against Americans in Somalia, Kenya and Yemen, in the end the U. S attacked on 9 11 " .

    We conclude that the reasons for the 9 11 attacks, "the U.S. military presence in the holy places of the Muslims (Saudi Arabia)," not arm the Afghan rebels against the Soviet occupation.

    Many Americans believe that " if we arming the Syrian rebels, then 9 11 will repeat." This belief is a big mistake, and it was the reason for the massacres in Syria, as the Assad regime has all kinds of weapons, and the rebels have only light weapons.

    Syria is not a holy land such as Saudi Arabia.

    Now we knew the real reason for the attacks of 9 11 .

    Why continue the terrible massacres in Syria because of " misconceptions about the 9 11 attacks " .

    Now, the U.S should stop the massacre in Syria quickly by "no-fly zone over Syria, and arming the rebels with anti-tanks," then the Assad regime will fall within one month, and the horrible massacre in Syria will stop, and peace returns to Syria.

    We dont want the Syrian people become the new enemy of the U.S because the U. S to prevent sophisticated weapons for Syrian rebels such as anti-aircraft.

    Why do we make "new enemies" because of "misconceptions about the 9 11 attacks?"

    We want the Syrian people, become a friend of the U. S, so we must help them.

    June 4, 2013 at 8:07 am | Reply
    • Mark Rushing

      We will be friends of the Syrian people once this is over and Assad remains in power. The US was "asked" to come to Saudi by the Saudis and Kuwaitis to do their fighting for them. Bin Laden was not the leader of Saudi so what he wanted did not matter to anyone other than himself and his followers. Muslims will always hate westerners no matter what we do for them or to them. It is in our best interest for Assad to defeat the rebels quickly and end the suffering of the Syrian people. The rebels aren't even Syrians, they are Islamic extremist (Jihadis) that want nothing more than to run the place and act like the Taliban (Sharia law etc..) During WWII we bombed entire German cities and killed countless white civilians. We refuse to do the same to Muslims because we try to show you all that we do not hate you but we will not be attacked either. The fact is, if the US decided to wage all out war against Islam as you all claim we are doing, we could wipe Islam from the face of the earth pretty quickly. Having said that, we would be no better than you all if we did that and killed indiscriminately. BUT.. we know and understand that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Muslims should start thinking about this and stop being terrorists before it gets to the point that we are ready to become terrorists ourselves.

      August 8, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  11. jsf12

    "No Fly Zone" was the giant lie of Obama's policy in Libya and would be the same if he repeats that in Syria. The US does not have the level of technical advantage to control another country's air space while ignoring its ground based air defenses. What we do have is the bombing capacity to destroy their military on the ground (as long as the news media approves of massive collateral damage far beyond what they would have accepted if they weren't proponents of the campaign).
    Massive bombing to destroy an enemy military on the ground is a practical requirement for the US to suppress their ground based air defense, in order to gain air superiority and impose that "no fly zone".
    So in Libya, Obama was able to conduct a massive bombing campaign killing tens of thousands of civilian and military supporters of the regime, while the world media went along with the absurd fiction that the purpose of the bombing was to impose a no fly zone. The world media would be thrilled if he did it again in Syria.
    But this is not our war. Libya is far worse off now as a result of the US forcing a regime change. It is not time to repeat that mistake.

    June 4, 2013 at 8:35 am | Reply
    • Soso Bim

      Where air defenses to the Assad regime, when Israeli aircraft bombed Damascus?! Air defenses to Bashar al-Assad was a lie unfortunate. Horrible massacre in Syria must stop.This is a massacre century.1000000 killed, 5 million became refugees.Assad destroyed most of the Syrian cities by aerial bombardment, tanks and Scud missiles.This disaster must stop.

      June 4, 2013 at 8:50 am | Reply
      • Mark Rushing

        It will stop when the foreign jihadis stop trying to take over the government and install Sharia law.

        August 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  12. Rick McDaniel

    Simple........nothing changed.

    June 4, 2013 at 11:06 am | Reply
  13. Matt Mueller

    Well said, reasoned, and discussed. This situation has the potential to turn an already volatile region but one that has tremendous potential, into a parking lot

    June 5, 2013 at 9:14 am | Reply
  14. b-rad

    "Doing little or nothing, as the United States is now, is no longer an option..."

    Yes it most certainly is, and is the best non-action the U.S. should take in this sectarian bloodbath that isn't worth the life of one American solider.

    June 5, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Reply
    • Neill

      b-rad you are quite right. Doing little or nothing is the best option. Interference by us by supporting these so -called rebels will only bring more death and destruction to the country and more extremism. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan. Its sad our war mongering politicians learn nothing.
      These rebels have no support amoung the Syrian population. Its only Islamists from the Gulf States that support them. Refer to article by washington post.

      June 5, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  15. kurtis

    The American used Chemical weapons in the past... No one seemed to care then?

    June 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  16. sami fadel

    There is no doubt that Mr Dunne is either a fool or a Neocon. As much as I would love to see Assad and his thugs depart I hate to see another country fall in the hands of terrorists and their backers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Syrians will eventually find a way to change their political system but that change may never come if NATO intervenes militarily like what it did in Iraq (which backfired I might add). CNN was always able to treat readers with garbage-quality "analysis" when it comes to the Middle East !!

    June 6, 2013 at 1:06 am | Reply
  17. Nick

    Here is the main problem the world constantly looks to the United States to be the first country to intervene with there military and the United States is also the last country to pull out. We are still have major ground forces in Afghanistan; we just ended the Iraq conflict we are going to be limited to what response we can effectively administer. The majority of the American people will not support a full on conflict again. And to those who say we can try small forces that didn't work out to well when we tried that in Somalia back when Clinton was In office. The simple fact is the rebels can not win this war without armed support from the outside. So what the United States should do is use NATO. We used NATO to deal with Libya and that leader is not around no more. With NATO we can do a joint Military action with other countries and with the combined strength we can not only defeat Syria we can but the pressure on both Iran and North Korea which is a double win.

    June 6, 2013 at 2:30 am | Reply
  18. Bill

    It appears that Assad now has the upper hand. Maybe this will come to a close. I hope the US doesn't get militarily involved.
    Beyond that, when this is over the "WInner" will be responsible for reconstruction. We cannot afford that cost.Let Russia and Iran foot the bill.
    That may be cynical but IMO Assad blew it up. Let Assad and his allies rebuild.

    June 9, 2013 at 9:55 am | Reply
  19. Richard

    Despite Putin and Larov's talk about peace their actions suggest they are banking on an Assad win. Russia continues to supply Assad with everything he needs but calls on the West not to do so for the rebels. Most recently, they twisted Turkey's arm to refuse to allow arms shipments through. They are selling advanced missile defense and jets to Assad and Putin has actually said those were to defend against the West. If they anticipated a compromise government would this be necessary? They have not complained about troops sent by Hezbollah and now Iran and fighters sent by Iraq, Iran and others. However, they do complain about any fighters going to the other side. I do not see these as the actions of a peacemaker. I do not believe that they speak the truth when they state their motives.

    June 22, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Reply
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  21. Syricide

    Its good to see from all these comments that the authors of these biased articles are not winning the propaganda war.

    August 19, 2013 at 10:49 am | Reply
  22. JustSaying

    Oh please, stop thinking about what is best for the Syrian people, we have enough problems at home, besides if we think about the Syrians the best action is to let them kill each other. if any other country intervenes in any way it will just make them blame us when they screw up again.

    August 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Reply
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