Ryan C. Crocker
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.