All this talk about Assad staying…

by Matthew Barber

A number of articles have been circulating recently that observe that Assad may stick around, perhaps for good. Amidst this discussion, some controversy has been stirred up around some of Dr. Landis’ comments published in a recent BBC article. The comments under discussion were: “Someone has got to bite the bullet and say Assad stays,” and “We don’t have another game in town.”

These comments were interpreted as Dr. Landis himself “biting the bullet” and advocating that Assad stay, but they were presented in the article divorced from their context. Dr. Landis had been asked to comment on Ryan Crocker’s recent statements on Assad’s staying power and Assad being preferable to al-Qaida. Landis was referring to how Crocker had “bit the bullet” and made these observations of the realities on the ground, a discussion that a retired diplomat was better-positioned to initiate than government voices currently in service. Rather than making a policy recommendation that “Assad should stay,” Landis’ basic point (presented clearly in a NYT article today, included below) was that if no one is willing to forcibly remove Assad, someone with a voice will have to broach the fact that he’s not going to leave. Crocker has now trail-blazed a discussion that can continue in Washington.

The comment about not having “another game in town” referred to the proposed Geneva peace conference. Landis meant that in terms of who can represent the regime’s side at Geneva, there is no one but Assad. He is NOT saying that Assad is the “only game” for all of Syria (and that therefore the West should engage Assad as the representative of Syria despite his regime’s atrocities)—rather, Assad is the only one who can currently speak for regime-controlled Syria. Russia and America don’t have the power to select someone else to speak for the regimist side. Some want to isolate Assad and appoint new figures who can represent the regime at Geneva. Landis believes it is impossible to do this, because the very essence of the regime itself is built around Assad. You can’t isolate the people with blood on their hands from the regime and simultaneously maintain a powerful regime. The system is based on circles of loyalty constructed around certain key figures; trying to replace those bloody-handed key figures will mean the crumbling of the entire regime.

Beyond Assad being the “only game” for regime-allied Syria, Dr. Landis (in a comment yesterday in a Qifa Nabki discussion) elaborated on the limitation of Russia and the U.S. to select future leadership figures for the regime’s side, expressing what he sees as the limitations of great powers to effect constructive change:

Perhaps one of the more dramatic changes that have taken place over the last 100 years is that “Imperial Powers” are no longer interested or capable of “building” much in the Middle East. The new regional powers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey – will bear the burden and responsibility of shaping the intellectual and military forces of the Middle East.

A point of divergence between Crocker and Landis is that Crocker sees Assad regaining control of Syria, inch by inch. Dr. Landis considers this highly unlikely, seeing the regime as incapable of retaking major centers such as Aleppo. So whereas the BBC article painted Landis’ position as further out than Crocker’s, Landis actually doesn’t go quite as far. Today’s rebel victory at the al-Kindi hospital in Aleppo (held and used as a base by regime soldiers) underscores this situation. One of our discussion-forum commenters, UZAIR8, raised the issue of regime manpower in conjunction with the fact that those soldiers fighting in Aleppo are from the coast, not from the area where they’re fighting. This highlights the fact that many places where the regime is conducting offensive campaigns are more and more becoming “foreign fronts.”

Something we have talked about on Syria Comment many times is the fact that even if the regime had the capability of retaking the entire country, Assad doesn’t have a political solution that could reunite the country. Ba’athism no longer offers a program that can define the nation, and the regime and what it stood for has entirely lost legitimacy due to its use of violence. The Assad camp therefore has no plan for a future Syria. In this sense they are not “the only game in town” for Syria, and never will be again, regardless of how much control they regain. They may remain the game in regions where they represent the interests of groups who are fighting with them, but places like Aleppo—though now suffering under repressive al-Qaida and Islamist governance—will never stop fighting the regime, because they don’t want what they increasingly view as an outside community ruling over them (the coastal, non-Aleppan “outsiders” differing in sectarian identity as well as in geographic origin).

In sum, Landis believes that a radical, Islamist state may well be unavoidable, as will be the continued rule of the regime, each presiding over different swaths of Syria. The West will have to accept this reality and strive for a ceasefire, if the outflow of refugees is to be staunched. In a Facebook conversation with Mohanad Atassi, Landis said:

You may propose supporting the Saudi strategy of arming the IF to conquer Assad, but that would be a very big undertaking that would surely destroy what is left of Syria. Alternatively, you may be for arming Idriss and what is left of the FSA, but they seem to have failed as they have no local support from any of the Gulf countries or big spenders in the region. Clearly, the West determined that he was not a winner and wasn’t worth the effort or investment. That may have been a mistake, but I don’t believe he was going to be anymore successful than Chalabi and company.


The NYT today published a series of short articles contributing to this discussion. Landis, Crocker, and other informed voices weigh in. The position discussed above, held by Dr. Landis, is presented in his article, re-posted here:

A Cease-Fire Is the Best Hope

by Joshua Landis, December 21, 2013 – New York Times

If the United States and the West are unwilling to depose Assad or destroy the Syrian Army, they must come to terms with Assad’s survival. In all probability, he will remain the ruler of a large part of Syria for years to come.

The United States has no good choices for a solution in Syria. All sides will have to make deep compromises. The United States will have to climb down from its position that Assad must go. The Iranians and Russians will have to give up their hope that Assad will destroy the rebel forces arrayed against him and reconquer Syria. The Saudis, Turks and Gulf Arabs will have to accept that they cannot destroy the Assad regime and achieve a total Sunni win.

The best outcome that the United States can pursue today is a cease-fire. This will mean getting all concerned states to shut off the arms and military aid that they send to their proxies. Instead, aid must be directed to humanitarian needs. Only such a policy will stop the destruction of Syria, outflow of refuges and endless human suffering.

Of course, a cease-fire will mean that both radical Islamists and Assad’s regime are here to stay for the immediate future. Syria will likely remain a patchwork of autonomous zones for some time. A cease-fire would confirm the present reality on the ground. The Assad regime would rule over much of the west and south of the country. Rebel groups would rule over much of the north and east. And Kurds would rule over their zone in the far northeast.

With some luck, Syrians may rebuild their country and unite as did the Lebanese after establishing a cease-fire. Refugees could begin to return to their towns and homes, and the world could begin to contemplate how to rebuild Syria rather than destroy it.

Ryan Crocker’s article:

Assad Is the Least Worst Option

It is time to consider a future for Syria without Assad’s ouster, because it is overwhelmingly likely that is what the future will be.

President Obama’s bold declaration in 2011 that Assad must go violated a fundamental principle of foreign affairs: if you articulate a policy, you had better be sure you have the means to carry it out. In Syria, we clearly did not.

We assumed that Syria was like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya with a hated dictator ripe for toppling by his people. History demonstrates why toppling would not be easy: Hama, 1982. Bashar’s father Hafez cornered the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the country’s fourth largest city. Ringed by armor and artillery, the city center was destroyed. The Brothers were neutralized, but some 15,000 Sunni civilians also perished. The exact number will never be known.

There were two long-term consequences. First, the minority Alawi regime under father and son knows there may someday be a day of reckoning and spent the next three decades developing the security, military and intelligence apparatus to withstand it. For the Alawites, it’s simple: we either hang together or we hang separately. There was never a question that the security forces would turn against the regime and thereby sign their own death warrants.

Second, because of Hama, significant elements of the Sunni community are deeply radicalized. Repressed, but radicalized, waiting for the day of revenge. Another non-surprise: the most extreme elements of the opposition, affiliated with Al Qaeda, have taken control of it.

It is also not a surprise that Iran and its Lebanese asset Hezbollah are all in on the side of Assad. The Alawis, a Shi’a offshoot, are Iran’s only allies in a hostile Sunni sea. Nor is it a surprise that Russia blocked a Security Council Chapter VII resolution. The impact of a radical Sunni ascendancy in Damascus on Chechnya and Dagestan is one of Moscow’s worst security nightmares.

Better armed, organized, supported and motivated, Assad isn’t going. Most likely, he will get the country back, inch by bloody inch. Perhaps Al Qaeda will hold a few enclaves in the north. But he will hold Damascus. And do we really want the alternative — a major country at the heart of the Arab world in the hands of Al Qaeda?

So we need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad — and consider that as bad as he is, there is something worse. A good place to start is Geneva next month and some quiet engagement with Syrian officials.

Rima Allaf’s article represents the position (responded to above) that finds regime participation headed-by-Assad unacceptable:

War’s Victims Want No One With Blood on Their Hands

… We don’t need a referendum to know that most Syrians want the carnage to stop immediately. Most realize, however, that violence won’t end if the Assad clan is allowed to stay as a de facto winner, continuing to impose collective punishments on those guilty of nothing more than civil disobedience or intellectual opposition. This would push armed opposition even more to a “death or liberty” mode, straight into the arms of better-organized extremists.

The false dichotomy of Assad or the current opposition (or worse, of Assad or the extremists) has forced many Syrians into making a choice. But the vibrant civil society which has flourished in spite of – or perhaps because of – the war presents a third option of transition to reconciliation and justice on an equal platform of citizenship, led by independent Syrians with no blood on their hands, empowered by real international support.

Today, the two safest buildings in Syria are the presidential palace in Damascus and the headquarters of the militant ISIS in Raqqa. If the United State and Russia don’t cut their wings, there will be no containment of the catastrophe until both sets of warlords have left those buildings.

Hassan Hassan shares this perspective:

Fighting Will Not Stop While Assad Remains

… But a future for Syria with Assad is more of a slogan than a thought-out solution. Beyond the moral considerations, there are practical reasons that Assad cannot hold on to power.

Without his removal one cannot imagine an end to the violence in Syria. How do you deal with extremists while Assad remains? Hunt them down? How do you roll the regime’s army into liberated areas? How would you decide the sectarian or regional make up of the officers and soldiers in each area? …

Randa Slim’s article considers Geneva in light of regional considerations:

Regional Powers Will Tire of Assad, and Conflict

… The Geneva II talks, now scheduled to start Jan. 22, will officially usher in Syria’s international deal-making phase. Yet those negotiations will not produce a peace agreement anytime soon. While U.S.-Russian talks were critical in getting the regime to surrender its chemical arsenal, four regional war funders, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran, will be consequential to ending the civil war itself.

For now, each is more focused on outright victory for their favored camps. Despite talk of Syria exporting conflict into neighboring states, these states have exported their own rivalries to Syria. …

Comments (43)

Badr said:

The strife for Syria will continue to be vigorously contested for years to come.

December 22nd, 2013, 2:03 am


Juergen said:

Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer

“In 1982, not long after his father’s military pulverized a town called Hama, Bashar Al Assad got a jet ski.”

December 22nd, 2013, 2:57 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Syrian Hamster,

You’re hinting at some sort of a conspiracy theory, involving secret support by the regime to the Islamists, aiming at creating this binary viewpoint of “us vs. them”. I hate to use the Cliché “you have no evidence”. But you have none.

This reminds me of Jews-haters, who suggest there was kind of a secret deal between the Nazis and the Zionists.

I find it very much unlikely to say the least, that the regime (or in other words, the Syrian minorities) is/are creating this Islamist monster, deliberately. But may be I’m wrong and you are right. We need future historians to determine that.

In the begining, the revolutionaries were fighting for democracy, human rights and justice. I could support that. Now, the elements that are fighting the regime (I refrain from calling them “revolutionaries”) are fighting for Sharia and the reign of Islam in Syria. I cannot support that.

You say that the original revolutionaries, who began all of this, are still a party in this conflict. I don’t think that this is true. Today, reason is marginalized by extremism, hate and bigotry. This is the right time to call the revolution off, before there is no way back.

December 22nd, 2013, 8:47 am


Tara said:


It is understandable that you are looking after the best interest of Israel.

Sadly, I expected differently. Was it my fairy tale nativity that I thought that what we were taught in school to be a sworn enemy could see through his/ her humanity?

You supported the revolution initially to weaken HA. You realized afterward that the so called resistance was nothing but HA’s ticket to ascend to power and once they are in power, resistance had become just a facade. Therefore, no need to weaken them anymore. And hence, you realized that Assad, the rabbit of Jolan, has always been on your side, while the unknown, of course, become your enemy.

There will be no Syria if Assad remains. And it is neither up to Israel or the American admin to decide if he stays or not.

I am ending this conversation now. Others may pick it up. I can’t. This is making me very very angry. And you are not my friend anymore. I wasted my time with you.

December 22nd, 2013, 9:07 am



Never a fan of conspiracy theory, left that to assad goons here and elsewhere. It is utility theory. why would assad attack some group that has provided him with the pretext and a validation of his own conspiracy theory. As for ISIS, their project does not include getting rid of assad, who is also providing them with recruits through an overly sectarian murder and mayhem.

There is no conspiracy at all. It is simply an intersection of interests. To both, there is one enemy and that is the Syrian people yearning for freedom. And both are attacking that enemy, each in their own way.

It is rather interesting that all the activists held hostages by ISIS are on the regime’s list for liquidation.

December 22nd, 2013, 9:08 am


sami said:

Abdulaziz Khayer, Maher Tahan, Elias Ayaash, Mounzir Khadam, Rajaa Nassar, Razan Zeitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wael Hamada, and Nazim Hamadi.

All these names have been arrested by the regime or Daesh. All of them are part of the LCC.

Every so called amnesty by the regime, figures like Alloush, Jolani, and Baghdadi were released while the peaceful activists lament in jail.

The regime might have not directly created ISIS and its various tentacles it sure went out of its way to release its leaders. It should be noted as well that while those figures were released Omar Aziz, Ghiath Matar, Yehya Sharbaji were tortured to death by the regime.

December 22nd, 2013, 9:36 am


Observer said:

The question remains: there is a conflict of interest from Alawi Americans talking about Thouria Althad. This is very important to remind everyone of the inherent bias when anyone talks about staying power of the regime.

Second, the premise that I challenge is that the world and regional power have the ability to end the conflict anytime soon. This talk assumes that after some meeting there will be a solution imposed or an accommodation done. Neither the US nor Iran nor Russia can end the conflict and certainly not to its liking. We have no influence on the ground. We have no influence with the local regional powers. We have no ability to do anything anymore because of the Iraq and Afghanistan Syndromes.

This premise is false for the revolution has taken a life of its own and there is now a dynamic that is setting the stage for the long haul. Kindi hospital was besieged for 112 days. These people do not seem to be at a rush to take positions. They are there to exhaust the regime ( which happened by the way ) and now to exhaust his supporters HA and Iran. The premise is also false for it is the presence of the regime that is fueling the backlash.

Also, 99.99999999999% of Americans do not give a hoot about Syria or about pontificators of Syria on the NYT or elsewhere. In a sense, the op-ed is actually nothing more than a disguised pro regime response to the Saudi op-ed of last week.

That is why, I see in the US energy independence an end to our involvement intimately in the ME. I would vote for two more aircraft carrier groups to be stationed in the Gulf and that is it.

Also what Amir is posting is something Syrians and Lebanese know all too well with a long history of accommodation and of control of the Palestinian factions and of using the “resistance” card to keep the population in check.

In 2001 a call was made to end the emergency status of Syria and the regime responded that it cannot do so while it is in a state of war with Israel !!!!!!

You can fool some of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time with or without NYT op ed pieces.

Remember this Amir; for it pertains to Zionism as well and how the world is also waking up to your fooling them over the last decades with a history of anti semitism and David against Goliath and Flowering the Desert only to have a survey of the European Union declare a few years back that Israel is the major threat to world peace. The results were so shocking that the survey remained hidden from the public for some time.

As for the regime controlling large parts of the country I do invite those wishing to test the theory to travel between Latakia and Aleppo or between Damascus and Homs or between Damascus and Daraya.

December 22nd, 2013, 9:40 am


norman said:

This one is funny, War victims do not want leaders with blood on their hands, ,,,, They might as well look at the POPE then to lead Syria,

December 22nd, 2013, 9:45 am


Observer said:

The reality is that the regime for three decades now has tied the survival of the Alawi community to its fate. The Alawi soldiers know that they will have no mercy from the likes of JN or ISIS and today in response to the barrel bombs a suicide bomber detonated his truck in front of a Shia school in Homs province. They will fight to the death if need be. All of them in Kindi hospital were from the coast. Therefore there are no more troops from within the areas to fight for the regime. The next phase is the prison.

Mikdad says that KSA is now its enemy number one. It is clear that KSA is determined to topple the regime and will use whomever and whatever to do so.

Iran will be sucked in further and HA will get further in and the Saudis and Iranians are willing to fight it out for one or two decades if need be. So a complete destruction of Syria is in the works.

Norman for once is right but why the Pope? This pope yes but not any Pope. I vote for the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu.

Can anyone give me the list of banned people? I deeply regret that I cannot read their comments for both sides gave me a very intimate view of the thinking.

December 22nd, 2013, 10:28 am


ghufran said:

If the news reports about the West and Russia looking for Alawite figures to take key positions in the army and the government are true Assad regime may now be more focused on potential alawite competitors especially in the army than non alawite figures in the opposition. For Syria to stand up again there is a need for two divorces to occur: alawites need to divorce the Assads, and Sunnis need to divorce Islamists.
This explains why the two parties involved, Islamists and Assadists, are working very hard to prove their relevance to their “constituents” and target their opponents at the same time.
Events on the ground, unfortunately, have made it very hard to convince fearful Syrians that they can sign those divorce papers because the main fighting force among sunni rebels are the islamists and nobody outside Assad circle ,in the alawite community, has been able to play a leader, those who tried are either in prison or outside Syria, some are already dead !!

December 22nd, 2013, 11:01 am


Hopeful said:

Ghufran said: “For Syria to stand up again there is a need for two divorces to occur: alawites need to divorce the Assads, and Sunnis need to divorce Islamists.”

Very well said!

December 22nd, 2013, 4:40 pm


ALAN said:

With the help of Goldman Sachs and Schroeder Mikhail Khodorkovsky out of Russian jail!

Is not there the Arab oil states will to bring out thousands of Arab detainees in Israel like Mr. Albroogthe and others?

Freedom for Arab prisoners in Israeli jails! Freedom of engineer Dirar Abu Sisi!

December 22nd, 2013, 11:21 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


This has nothing to do with me being an Israeli. You got it all wrong!

“…You supported the revolution initially to weaken HA”. — Absolutely not true! I follow SC since 2005. Go back to the comments section back then, and see that long before the so called “Arab spring”, Akbar, AIG and me, were calling for a democratic Syria … regardless of HA and others.

I understand yours, Hamster’s and others objection to the Assads. I’m with you. But when you see your country being destroyed, it’s the time to stop and rethink the objectives and the prospects.

What do you prefer? Imperfect, but standing Syria, or a victory at any price, that will lead to Syria ruined into rubbles, and governed by savage barbarians?

Lets go to square one. What was the aim of the brave Syrians, who in the beginning, started all this? It wasn’t to get rid of Assad at any price.

December 22nd, 2013, 11:25 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


“…To both, there is one enemy and that is the Syrian people yearning for freedom”.

I agree with you. Now, in the bipolar (that has become of) Syria, the question is what polar is worse than the other polar. I think that the ISIS et al are way worse, and so you have to mobilize and fight them first.
The prospects of them winning the battle are much grimmer.

December 22nd, 2013, 11:37 am


Sami said:

It wasn’t to get rid of Assad at any price.

No, it was Assad that wanted to get rid of them at any price. Hence the term “Assad or we Burn the Country”.

ISIS has thus far barely emulated the regime in terms of brutality. This is not to say they are not capable of doing the same, but thus far the regime has killed far more Syrians and destroyed Syria far more than ISIS has and this is true even before ISIS even existed.

December 22nd, 2013, 11:40 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I’d like to pose a counter-argument: Israel would be very happy if the Islamists won.

This will guaranty a weak and bankrupt Syria, constantly occupied with internal civil wars. Perhaps even divided into sectarian statelets.
This will mean the end of Syria as a serious enemy.

What can be better for us, as Israelis?

December 22nd, 2013, 11:47 am


Sami said:

As an “enemy” the Assads have been a dream come true for the Israelis. The quietists border since ’73 (this includes Jordan) and an army built to suppress the people than fighting the “enemy”…

With an enemy like that, who needs friends!

December 22nd, 2013, 11:51 am


Sami said:

And this whole idea that we need to defeat ISIS before the regime is just a bandaid solution. For the regime created at the very least the reasoning behind ISIS’s rise, which is its unrelenting and ugly brutality which has pushed Syrians to an extreme that is filled with hate and sectarianism, and created a Syria with “two sides”.

Treating the effects and not the cause will only guarantee the rise of more extremism in the future.

December 22nd, 2013, 11:59 am


ghufran said:

استشهد 20 مدنياً بينهم طلاب ومستخدمين اثنين و جرح أكثر من 100 آخرين إثر انفجار سيارة مفخخة قرب مدرسة في ريف حمص الشرقي.
SOHR confirmed an initial report of 12 death and said this:
محافظة حمص- المرصد السوري لحقوق الانسان::ارتفع الى 12 بينهم 5 أطفال عدد الشهداء الذين قضوا إثر تفجير رجل شاحنة مفخخة صباح اليوم قرب مدرسة ابتدائية في بلدة أم العمد التي يقطنها مواطنون من
الطائفة الشيعية والعدد مرشح للارتفاع بسبب وجود جرحى بحالات خطرة
I realize that fighting islamists fits the regime narrative but that does not mean that Syrians should abandon that critical mission just because it serves the regime’s interests. Terrorists who chop heads, kill people on suspicion or by religious affiliation, burn churches, bomb schools and hospitals, etc are far worse than any regime inside or outside Syria, the evidence is all over the place but a lot of people are not programmed to see anything that push them outside their comfort zone.

December 22nd, 2013, 1:13 pm


ALAN said:

12 and 15
answer for you!!!!

December 22nd, 2013, 2:21 pm



to those living in Syria under bombardment, ISIS may not be the worst, but an equally bad alternative.

The image of a bipolar conflict is what Joshua Landis and the Syrian Studies Association have been working very hard to perpetuate for a long time now. But that vicious image is rather deceptive and is only part of the picture. Syria has, both inside syria (which is what counts) and outside syria (which counts less than being inside), a large majority of moderates who are working against both sides. The focus on the military/sectarian side of the revolution is of course what the “professors” have insisted on from the first moment even when the militant side was only the regime.

I believe that a future Edward Said will look at the bunch of Arab and Syrian studies professors we now have in the US an accuse them , rightfully so, of being worst than the orientalists.

Casting only two choices is in fact the most stupid action and it is basically falling for the regime’s trap. The price is far heavier than saying.. both choices are unacceptable and we have to do something about that. The Syrians are saying and doing that, and with all due respect, you or anyone else no matter how “expert” they are have no right to rob them from a real choice. JL and his colleagues have been doing that for three years now, you don’t have to join that Choir of doom.

December 22nd, 2013, 2:22 pm


ALAN said:

Now, that is more difficult because Russia and China, and Assad himself will not agree to just step down. The transition will take a more complicated route – some sort of election – but the West and, at least, the hard-line groups on the opposition side do not want Assad to take part in any process of transition. And that is going to be the main difficulty.

December 22nd, 2013, 2:41 pm


ALAN said:

Agreements to be reached during the talks between the Syrian authorities and opposition should be approved by the international community and a resolution of the UN Security Council could be needed for this, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.
Read more:

December 22nd, 2013, 2:47 pm


ALAN said:

Ghouta and Geneva are two cities on two different continents, but the political relationship between the two places has become organic, causal and direct.

December 22nd, 2013, 3:15 pm


Tara said:


And no so called expert has the right to tell Syrians in what chronological order they should get rid of their enemies.

It is clear that Syrians across all spectrum from secular to moderate to conservative want Assad out first. It is then and only then that Syrians would unite effort to meaningfully fight ISIS et al that is nothing but the flip side of the coin.

There is no Syria as long as Assad is in Balad.

December 22nd, 2013, 3:43 pm


Uzair8 said:

A post on Yalla Souriya yesterday I made note of:


They made us chant every morning & meeting: Unity Freedom Socialism. But they united against us & banned freedom & monopolized the country.

December 22nd, 2013, 3:45 pm


Uzair8 said:

While searching for the YS post above (#25) I noticed a couple of other posts from yesterday.

Many Brits and in particular UK muslims opposed the prospect of military intervention after the chemical attacks. We hoped they would understand the desperation of the syrian people and that they would avoid falling for Assad’s propaganda and denials. If only they would imagine themselves in the shoes of the desperate syrian people.

The following YS post is very useful to illustrate how a position
can change when facing first hand the reality of the regime and the suffering it has caused:

Mother of slain British surgeon Abbas Khan: I prayed for the aerial strike not to happen, but now I want them to end the regime. #Syria

Also a couple more interesting posts:

Mother of slain British surgeon Abbas Khan: Buthaina Shaaban office accused my son of being a terrorist. #Syria #Justice #EnoughWithAssad

Mother of slain British surgeon Abbas Khan: Buthaina Shaaban office refused to cooperate with me. #Syria #Freedom #Justice #EnoughWithAssad

December 22nd, 2013, 3:55 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I have no intention of joining any choirs, believe me. You say that the situation isn’t bipolar, because there’s a third party of seculars/moderates/ with national tendencies in this conflict. Where are they? I miss them a lot. I wished they existed, or even let us know they exist.

The day the Islamists raided the FSA humanitarian storages, and Mr Idris fled Syria, it became obvious that from this moment on, there’s just the barbarians vs. the regime. The moderate and (pseudo)secular FSA is history. And not that they were ever secular or moderate. Their statements always opened with the Bis-Mi-llha al Rakhman thing.

Syria these days is the black and red flags vs. the black flags. Green and black disappeared. I’m sure that many “moderates” exist out there, but they are not a party in this game.

December 22nd, 2013, 3:58 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


“… It is then and only then that Syrians would unite effort to meaningfully fight ISIS et al”.

This is very naive and childish, not to say dangerous.

The Syrians are exhausted to the extent, that they will accept any one or any thing (even the devil himself), if he promises them a few days of peace and quiet. The last thing they will be willing to do after years of fighting, is to fight again.

Getting rid of the Islamists is now or never.

December 22nd, 2013, 4:16 pm


Tara said:


Also, no expert has the right to rate our enemies for us. Who give them the right to scale our enemies as bad or worse and choose for us what is tolerable and what is not?

Who has the right to go and to tell the mother of the headless little girl, that the regime is the less evil and Assad should stay? Who has the right to tell the parents of the chemical weapon victims that Assad is the less evil? Tell me who? The ones that provided us with McDonald meals and the night Ray bans?

And Amir, please…

I say bismillah alrahman al Raheem starting anything… This is our culture. Too bad that people don’t like it.

December 22nd, 2013, 4:20 pm


Andrew said:

Amnesty admits links to activist accused of funding Al Qaeda

NEW YORK // Amnesty International yesterday admitted working with a Swiss-based human rights group whose Qatari co-founder has been accused of financing Al Qaeda.

December 22nd, 2013, 4:23 pm


Uzair8 said:

The Free-Syrian Electronic Army (FSEA) hacked into Assad’s ipod and the track listing makes for interesting reading. More info may be published in time.

One track, in prominent place, perhaps shows Assad in reflective mood. He seems to have good taste. Level 42 vocalist Mark King is regarded as possibly the best bassist around.

Level 42 – Running in the family (1987)

Our dad
Would send us to our room
He’d be the voice of doom
He said that we would thank him later
All day
He was solid as a rock
But by eight o’clock
We’d be crumbling
One night
My brother Maher and me
Climbed down the family tree
That grew outside our bedroom window
We ran
Though we knew it couldn’t last
Running from the past
From things that we were born to be

Looking back it’s so bizarre
It runs in the family
All the things we are
On the back seat of the car
With Maher and Bushra
We only see so far
And we all have our daddy’s eyes
Looking back it’s so bizarre

Dad rang
The officer in charge
A man so large
He barely fit his circumstances
He said
Two kids out on the street
Were picked up on the beat
And in the station
So there’s me
With Bushra and Maher
Daddy driving home
All heading in the same direction
He knew
No matter what the breaks
We’d make the same mistakes
Couldn’t take his eyes of Maher and me


Like a dream within a dream
We’re all somewhere in between

Like a drummer plays his drum
Like a father like a son
And your gonna have to face the music
Face the music

Hey hey
We keep it running in the family
Hey hey
We keep it coming in the family


Running in the family

Hey, hey!

December 22nd, 2013, 4:26 pm


mjabali said:

1- The solution for this mess, as I said many times, is by forming political parties on the ground in Syria.

2- Sooner than later they should put a constitution saying that any Syrian could be a president. Democracy that equals all Syrians. (From day one take out the article saying the president should be a Muslim). No questions asked.

3-al-Assad is going to leave at a certain point, but till that point all should play it smart. He has power to change things. If people want him out it should be done right. The war option did not work.

4- As for the Islamists: All Syrians with their REAL friends should kick their ass real hard, while defeating their WEAK ideology on mass media to show people how inferior these lunatics are.

5- Call me crazy, but these days Syrians could have a very good chance to establish a unique democracy in the Middle East if they plan it right.

December 22nd, 2013, 4:37 pm


Tara said:


Don’t you think that you are crossing the limit choosing for Syrians who is bad and who is worse and who they should fight first? Don’t you think that this is the choice that should be made by the Syrian people only?

I don’t know Amir if you have ever seen a Syrian in person so what gives you the right to rate our enemy for us or tell us what to do?

And if Syrians see Islamists as the less evil , do you think any opposing opinion is relevant?

December 22nd, 2013, 4:37 pm


Joshua Landis said:

Dear Syrian Hamster, You are right that the US cannot tell Syrians to stop fighting or to accept Assad. But so to, others should not presume that the US can change the course of their struggle. The US vote in September made it clear that congress was against Obama bombing even in the case of Chemical Weapon use. Obama would have destroyed his presidency by getting deeply involved in Syria and trying to produce a liberal outcome in Syria.

You are undoubtedly right that the only hope that liberal Syrians have of taking power or ensuring that both the regime and the radical Islamists are defeated is if the US intervenes heavily. The West is the only source of power which would support liberals. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Iran, Iraq and even Turkey have not supported liberals. In fact most of the private money flow, according to pundits and think thanks, is flowing from the Gulf to both the Islamic Front and the al-Qaida linked militias. This means that regional forces have abandoned liberals. Only the US supports them. Washington would have to outbid its allies and competitors in powering up a military that could defeat both the Iranian/Russian backed Assad and the Gulf back Islamists.

Obama would have zero support for trying to fix Syria. This is a true American failing, as you point out, but clearly the US has been sapped of any conviction that it can put liberals into power in the Middle East by the Iraq and Afghan experience.

A new elite has emerged in Syria that is neither liberal nor moderate. It seems to have swept all before it, driving out Idriss and the FSA forces that remained loyal to him. Even if the US had hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on Syria, I am doubtful that it could have build a liberal alternative. It didn’t work in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of course Syria is different from both of these countries, but it doesn’t have a long or deep liberal tradition. Liberals in Egypt have a longer and richer history than do those in Syria, and even they are too weak and were forced to turn to the military to drive out the Islamists with force.

Perhaps in two and a half years, if a Republican president is elected, policy priorities will change. But even a Republican interventionist, I believe, would have a very difficult time convincing the US public that producing a liberal outcome in Syria is something the US can do. The US already looks at Syria in terms of containment. This is a very sad reality. But I don’t see it changing any time soon.

December 22nd, 2013, 5:50 pm


norman said:

The opposition over reached pushed by the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the West will never intervene in Syria after seeing people are being killed by cutting their heads, the probelem in Syria like in any area where there is violence, only the radicles have credibelity, about Geneve, i see no future there as the ones that are going do not control the fighters in Syria , the only i see out is for the opposition to declare victory by getting free elections in 2014 and joining the government to fight the militants, that is the solution that i believe Russia and the US want, with or without Assad running, most likely if Assad does not run the candidate that is supported by the army and Baath party will win and Syria will be fighting AL Qaeda for years to come.

December 22nd, 2013, 6:15 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Obama would have destroyed his presidency by getting deeply involved in Syria and trying to produce a liberal outcome in Syria.

Professor Josh,

Good points. IMHO, Obama’s presidency is already destroyed, and getting involved in Syria would HELP him.

That being said, I can’t help stating the obvious even to my anti-regime friends here on SC: Saudi Arabia and Egypt have powerful militaries and could deal with the Assad family quickly and easily. The question I have is why we’re expect the US to save Syria when the US has already been punished by Arabdom for trying to save Iraq.

December 22nd, 2013, 6:27 pm


Observer said:

Mjabali an apology is in order and an explanation.

In the past when I said “get them out of our hair” I truly meant the separation of the sects as they have demonstrated to me at this time in their cycle of history to be incapable of living together. But I confess this was a very lazy solution. Moreover, it was actually a solution falling exactly into the trap of sectarianism itself.

I was reading Disordered World by Amin Maalouf and I came on a chapter that discusses “differences or ethnicity, religion, color, sexual orientation, etc.. and he actually mentioned something that opened my mind. He wrote about the Apartheid in South Africa. He argues and correctly in my opinion that the Apartheid concept was not only to separate Whites from Blacks but also in a perverse way in justifying its separate identification arguing that it is also “essential” for Blacks to be separate from Whites lest the interaction alienates them from their “ancestral” way of life.

So he writes:” We live in a period in which everyone feels obliged to fly a flag declaring their allegiances and to show that the they have seen the flags of those they encounter. I do not know if this constitutes a liberation or abnegation of the self, a form of politeness or of bad manners. It probably depends on the circumstances and the way it is done. …..Pretending not to notice differences …sometimes amounts to concealing and perpetuating centuries-old injustices.”

He goes on to write further ” Respecting someone means addressing him or her as a whole human being, as a free adult, not as a dependent being who belongs to his community like a serf is tied to the land”.

Therefore, I do recognize that I fell into the trap of thinking in terms of the “other” rather than to think in terms of free human beings worthy of humanity as such.

On the other hand, I do think that if the interlocutor insists on being treated within the framework of his/her belonging then the conversation can become sterile fairly quickly.

Now my call is to “get out of our hair” all those that continue to want to have an “apartheid thinking” state. In this time, the regime is being joined by the Islamist mirror image in an apartheid discourse on both sides.

Hopefully they will exhaust each other and we can live together again.


December 22nd, 2013, 7:54 pm


Observer said:

Dr. Landis as an American I say that “we do not go overseas in the pursuit of slaying monsters” as John Adams said.

We have no bone in this fight and we have no interests to defend and we have no popular desire to engage the world when we have so much to fix first.

Americans are more interested in Oklahomans who should forgo FEMA money as they continue to refuse to build houses without shelters in Tornado Alley down there. If they want to be free to do as they wish, then they can and should not ask for taxpayers’ money to continue to fund their short sighted building codes. That is what Americans are interested in these days. 99.9999999999% are interested in Duck Dynasty not in Syria

December 22nd, 2013, 7:59 pm


sami said:


“Therefore, I do recognize that I fell into the trap of thinking in terms of the “other” rather than to think in terms of free human beings worthy of humanity as such.”

Have you ever read Carl Sagan?

Below is an excerpt from his book Pale Blue Dot. It is his timeless ode to earth and its inhabitants.

December 22nd, 2013, 8:15 pm


Mazen said:


99.9999% are interested in Duck Dynasty, but not in Batta?

December 22nd, 2013, 9:04 pm


habib said:

14. Sami

SOHR claims most of the dead are pro-government fighters, and add to this that their “civilians” count both non-FSA fighters and pro-Assad civilians, which means most of the dead are actually pro-government.

So please, spare the “Assad killed 100.000 people” hogwash,

December 23rd, 2013, 7:22 pm


Martin Bright said:

There is also the israeli paradigm: Of the 24 million syrians lets say 5 million go expelled to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. Countries like Turkey and Lebanon can airlift the refugees now in their countries to the Gulf sheikhdoms. Those expelled to the Gulf will be the hard core salafist, the one´s that cannot live under the Baathist or kurdish governments. I concurs with Landis that Baathism cannot unite all of syrians, but it can bring stability to lets say 14 millon peoples (5 million druze, christian, alawi, shia, ismaili and 9 million non salafi sunnis). The 5 million kurds can live in a autonomous enclave (much like iraqi kurds live now), in a loose confederation with baathism.
In the end, you can have the middle east divided between a multireligious-multiethnic bilad al sham (from Lebanon to Iraq) and a number of hardcore salafi sheikhdoms from Jordan to the UAE.
This will require the expusion of 4-5 million from Syria and 2 million from Iraq, who can become the arab low cost labourers and domestic workers that displace the south asians and southeast asians in the labor market of the Gulf sheikhdoms. And who could be the force that change the political make up of the aforementioned sheikhdoms, because i cannot imagine those hardcore salafist accepting the way of life or the government of the current Gulf elites.
All of this, requiere of course that the syrian government first to win the war on the ground, and to choice to expell the people they cannot rule and that don´t want to be ruled by the actual government.
This israeli paradigm function both ways: what if the jihadist win the war on the ground? most if not all of the christians, druze, alawi, ismaili, shia from Syria will end up in Lebanon or in refugee camps in Europe or Oz. So for the secular sunnis. Lets say 5 million minorities and a million sunnis choice to left Syria or are expelled from Syria, and 14 million sunnis remain in a Taliban-style country. The crucial factor here is the kurds: the only way that a jihadist or salafist rule it is imposed on all of the actual Syria, is by defeating on the ground the kurdish army and with it expelling from the country 5 million kurds (to where? to Turkey?, to Iraq?). This solution imply the desetabilization of Turkey and Iraq. An intermediate outcome is Syria divided between a kurdish enclave and a Syrian salafi emirate that encompassess not only most of Syria but also the western half of Iraq (which end up partitioned in this way in 3 parts: a Kurdish entity, a Syrio-iraqi salafi emirate, and a Shia-secular sunni lower mesopotamian country).
The fact that most commentarist now speak about the baathist government remaining is because they abhorr the alternative: a Syrian or Syro-Iraqi salafi-jihadi emirate where al-Qaida and thousands of radicalized european or would be- european migrants can thrive and can maintain operational bases from where to plan and to execute terror attacks againts european targets.
Note that I exclude any demoratic alternative because there is no one with boots on the ground: neither the versions of al Qaida (Nusra et ISIS) nor local salafists (Jabhat Islamiya and many other groups), who are the boots on the ground in the antigovernmental camp, say a word about the instalment of a democratic liberal government should the actual gogernment falls. I read many comments from people self deluding themselves about the democratic potential of those groups: a sober reading of their proclamations or the watching of the thousdands of videos from those groups convince me that they are nor looking for free elections and the rule of law, but for a theocratic government (much like Saudi Arabia was and is ruled now.

December 23rd, 2013, 8:20 pm


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