Thursday, April 28, 2011


"Bashar al-Assad is determined to quell the Syrian revolt, which is why he has sent in the military with tanks and is now arresting the network of opposition activists and leaders that his intelligence agencies have been able to track.

There is an element of “shock and awe” to the operation. Tanks are clearly not useful for suppressing an urban rebellion, but they demonstrate the superior firepower of the state and the determination of the president. It is a classic military strategy – go hard and quick. Take out the opposition before it has a chance to harden and develop a durable command a reliable cell structure. This is precisely what the US military tried to do in Iraq. It is what it failed to do in Libya, when it allowed Qaddafi to regroup and regain control of Tripoli and Western Libya after his initial confusion and weakness.

I do not believe that the regime will be able to shut down the opposition. Unlike the Iranian opposition, which was successfully put down, the Syrian opposition is more revolutionary, even if, perhaps, not as numerous in the capital. The Green movement did not call for the overthrow of the regime and an end to the Islamic republic, but only reform. The Syrian opposition is revolutionary. Although it began by calling for reform, it quickly escalated to demand an end to the regime. It is convinced that reform of the Baathist regime is impossible and Syria must start over. It wants an end to the Baath Party, an end to Assad dynasty, an end to domination of the presidency and security forces by the Alawite religious community, and an end to the domination of the economy by the financial elite which has used nepotism, insider trading, and corruption to monopolize the ramparts of trade and industry. In short, the opposition abhors most aspects of the present regime and is working to uproot it. It is more determined and revolutionary than was the Iranian Green movement that Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei successfully suppressed....

In the face of the state’s superior military and willingness to use force, the opposition will be forced to turn to military means itself. The opposition leadership has already been able to smuggle loads of satellite phones and electronic equipment in to reinforce their activists inside the country. Smuggling arms will not be hard. The Syrian government has reported stopping several truck loads of arms being smuggled in from Iraq already. Both Lebanon and Iraq are awash with arms and the smuggling routes between them and Syria are well traveled. The Gulf will be a source of money and support".

Joshua Landis, "Quelling the revolt: will the opposition take up arms"?
Syria Comment. 26 April 2011, in

"A number of people have asked me for an assessment of what may happen in Syria during the coming days. Many Syrians have called for a “Day of Rage” on February 4 and 5. Of course Assad must fear the wave of popular protests demanding regime-change and freedom that is sweeping the Middle East. Syria shares the same economic problems as most Middle Eastern countries: poverty, inflation, joblessness, as well as the political woes of authoritarianism. Thirty-two percent of the Syrian population lives on $2 a day or less. Fifty percent spend close to half their income on food. They live in terrible insecurity and anxiety. Commodity prices are racing up worldwide. Wheat prices increased by 30% last year. Syria is liberalizing economically and cutting price supports and subsidies. The bottom half of Syrians are loosing what state supports they had at the same time as they are being hammered by rising food costs and natural calamities, such as the severe drought. Reform is not producing enough jobs.

Despite the economic similarities with Egypt, Syrian society and circumstances are different. Syrians have been traumatized by the violence and chaos of Iraq. The presence of almost one million Iraqi refugees has chastened Syrians. they understand the dangers of regime collapse in a religiously divided society. No Syrian wants to risk civil war. Freedom in Iraq has spelled disaster for the country’s minorities, both Sunnis and Christian. Iraq provides a cautionary tale for Syria’s minorities in particular. The Syrian regime is very tough. It will try to nip any demonstrations in the bud....

The Assad regime is looking at a significant improvement to its geostrategic position in the region, if it weathers the immediate storm of protest, which I suspect it will. The Camp David Agreement and America’s brokered peace between Israel and Egypt was a hard blow to Syria and the Palestinians. It meant they had no leverage to get back their occupied territories. The hope of weakening Israel’s sense of military security and improving security for Syria makes authorities in Damascus cheer on the collapse of the Mubarak regime.

Joshua Landis, "Will 'Day of Rage' Rock Syria?" Syria Comment. 2nd of February 2011, in

It is quite easy for myself or for that matter, anyone else to dig up old pronouncements by commentators AB or C, on current events in country XY or Z and show how good or bad, said personage was at predicting the chain of events in that particular instance. In the case of Syria, the lack of prescience of my old acquaintance, Professor Joshua Landis in his area of specialization (Modern day Syria of the last fifty years, and its society and politics) is however rather telling. For the past few years (2007 and forward), for reasons which would seem to be little more than 'pour epater les americaines', Landis has au fond, endorsed in a sotto voce fashion, the self-image of the Syrian regime, as being both 'popular' and fairly immune to any internal political weaknesses or vulnerabilities. If one were to have proposed say six months ago, to Landis that the regime in Damascus would be facing the sort of challenge that it now is, the good Professor would have laughed the scenario out of court, as highly implausible one and a neo-conservative nostrum to boot.

Given the above facts, I for one am, more than a bit hesitant to endorse Landis'
current take on events in Syria. Per contra: not that one should not, as Lord Keynes once stated, 'change one's mind' when the facts change. Merely that the supposition that Landis appears to base his argument, appears to be less than well thought out. Simply put, the idea that per se, the degree of voluntarism of those elements in Syrian society who wish to over-throw the Baathist regime is the determining variable in the current political situation appears to be both misplaced and ahistorical. Merely using some examples from Syria's own history shows that, both in the case of the Druze revolt against French rule in 1925-1927, and in the Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hamas in 1982, the failure of the revolt to succeed was not a result of the lack of voluntarism by those who were endeavoring to change the status quo. Rather the failure of the revolt to succeed was au fond, the result of the fact that the authorities in both cases, were able to employ in a thoroughly ruthless manner, superior amounts of force to in effect, subdue and destroy the opposition. Given the above history, I for one, fail to see, how in the absence of a substantial military mutiny by elements of the existing regime, how any uprising can possibly succeed. Which is not to gainsay the idea that for quite sometime to come, the regime of Assad Fils, will be bothered with internal challenges to its rule. Both of a violent and a non-violent variety. Nor is it to gainsay that as a long-term proposition, that regime if it is indeed, 'blacklisted', id est, isolated internationally by sanctions, both political and economic, will indeed be in a weakened condition. Merely, that the above state of affairs, will not necessarily result in a collapse of said regime. The best exampli gratia, being the Saddam Hussein regime from 1991 to 2003. In short, unlike Joshua Landis, I am quite willing to change my mind when the facts change, but said facts have to be those from the case at hand and not merely a phantom of one's own imagining.


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