Change Appears Inevitable In Syria, Analysts Say

May 27, 2011
Originally published on May 30, 2011 1:28 pm

U.N. Security Council diplomats have been studying a draft resolution condemning Syria for its deadly crackdown on demonstrators protesting the rule of President Bashar Assad. As the crisis drags on and the Security Council weighs its options, U.S. policymakers are trying to plan for what might come next. In Washington, there is a growing sense that Assad's rule is coming to an end.

So far, the U.S. and its partners have been unable to get the Security Council to condemn the violence. The resolution under consideration was drafted by Britain and other countries, but diplomats are trying to persuade Russia not to block it.

For now, this division plays into the hands of Assad, says Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian-born professor of Middle East studies at the National Defense University.

"The Assad regime knows full well that there are divisions in the Security Council. They know that the U.S. will not intervene militarily in Syria. They know that there is going to be opposition in the Security Council by Russia and by China to condemn Syria," Jouejati says. "If things, I think, were held equal today, the Assad regime will survive, but it's not going to be able to survive for very long."

'Lost Legitimacy'

Jouejati says the political and economic costs of the crackdown are rising quickly, and he thinks there's no going back.

"The Assad regime has lost credibility, it has lost legitimacy, and what is going to be needed for it to fall is really a pincer movement between the international community and [the] domestic society that is in an uprising against the regime," Jouejati says.

There is a growing sense among Syria experts that change is inevitable. At least, that was the mood among analysts gathered for a recent discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Tamara Wittes, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, represented the U.S. government there.

"One way or another, change is coming. And it's very important for us, all of us, therefore, to focus on how that's going to happen. Because how it happens is as important — in fact, in some ways at this point, more important — than when. Change is inevitable," Wittes said.

U.S. Strategy

So the U.S. needs to start making plans, says Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"The U.S. has to think about a strategy for bringing about what kind of government it would like to see in Syria after the Assads go," Tabler says. "This might not be something that happens right away; this will take a lot of time. But there's a general agreement that while the Assad regime is not at a tipping point, it is on a downward trajectory and we all have to prepare for that."

Tabler says the Obama administration also recognizes another key point when it comes to Syria.

"The Assad regime is not an ally of the United States. In fact, it's an ally of Iran, so this is a golden opportunity to be on good terms with the incoming powers."

Tabler thinks the U.S. can do more to help opposition figures get organized and counter Internet restrictions. The U.S. should also continue to try to squeeze the Assad regime financially, he says.

So far President Obama has stopped short of saying Assad must go. But his recent speech on the Middle East came awfully close, at least to the ears of Ammar Abdulhamid, a U.S.-based Syrian opposition activist:

"When they give [Assad] a choice between lead democratic transition or, sort of, get out of the way, they really mean get out of the way either with some dignity or without dignity. So in a sense, they are pressing for complete change and overhaul of the system," he says.

Abdulhamid and other opposition figures plan to meet in Turkey later this week to try to get better organized and lobby the West for a tougher response.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The U.N. Security Council is expected to turn its attention to Syria again this week. Diplomats have been studying a draft resolution condemning Syria for its deadly crackdown on protesters. U.S. policymakers, meanwhile, are trying to plan for what might come next if President Bashar al-Assad is forced from power. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The U.S. and its partners have been unable so far to get the U.N. Security Council to condemn the violence in Syria. A resolution drafted by Britain and others is under consideration, but diplomats are still trying to persuade Russia not to block it. And for now this division plays into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a Syrian-born professor of Middle East studies Murhaf Jouejati.

Professor MURHAF JOUEJATI (Middle East Studies, National Defense University): The Assad regime knows full well that there are divisions in the Security Council. They know that the U.S. will not intervene militarily in Syria. They know that there is going to be opposition in the Security Council by Russia and by China to condemn Syria. If things, I think, were held equal today, the Assad regime will survive, but it's not going to be able to survive for very long.

KELEMEN: Jouejati, who teaches at the National Defense University, says the political and economic costs of the crackdown are rising quickly. And he thinks there's no going back.

Prof. JOUEJATI: The Assad regime has lost credibility, it has lost legitimacy, and what is going to be needed for it to fall is really a pincer movement between the international community and domestic society that is in an uprising against the regime.

KELEMEN: There is a growing sense among Syria experts that change is inevitable. At least, that was the mood among analysts gathered for a recent discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Tamara Wittes represented the U.S. government there.

Deputy Assistant Secretary TAMAR WITTES (Near Eastern Affairs, Department of State): One way or another, change is coming. And it's very important for us, all of us, therefore, to focus on how that's going to happen. Because how it happens is as important in fact, in some ways at this point, more important than when. Change is inevitable.

KELEMEN: So the U.S. needs to start making plans, says Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who spoke to NPR by phone from Lebanon.

Mr. ANDREW TABLER: (Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy): The U.S. has to think about a strategy for bringing about what kind of government it would like to see in Syria after the Assads go. This may not be something that happens right away. This will take a lot of time. But there is a general agreement that while the Assad regime is not at a tipping point, it's on a downward trajectory and we all have to prepare for that.

KELEMEN: Tabler says the Obama administration also recognizes another key point when it comes to Syria.

Mr. TABLER: The Assad regime is not an ally of the United States. In fact, it's an ally of Iran, so this is a golden opportunity to be on good terms with the incoming powers.

KELEMEN: He thinks the U.S. can do more to help opposition figures get organized and counter Internet restrictions. And Tabler says the U.S. should also continue to try to squeeze the Assad regime financially.

So far, President Obama has stopped short of saying Assad must go. But his recent speech on the Middle East came awfully close, at least to the ears of a U.S.-based Syrian opposition activist, Ammar Abdulhamid.

Mr. AMMAR ABDULHAMID (Opposition activist): When they give Bashar a choice between lead democratic transition or, sort of, get out of the way, they really mean get out of the way, either with some dignity or without dignity. So in a sense, they are pressing for complete change and overhaul of the system.

KELEMEN: Abdulhamid and other opposition figures plan to meet in Turkey later this week to try to get better organized and lobby the West for a tougher response.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.