Defections mount as Syrian Regime invests Aleppo

The Baath regime of President Bashar al-Assad is preparing for a major military operation to crush the uprising in Aleppo on Friday afternoon, according to rebel and Western sources. Even as the regime continues to pound rebel-held neighborhoods with tank and helicopter gunship fire, it is massing troops and armor to invest the city.

But while tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships can destroy neighborhoods and force irregular fighters to fade away, the price of treating one’s own population as a military enemy is high. The regime may well win the military fight, but lose the political one.

Ikhlas Badawi, a member of the Syrian parliament representing Aleppo, has just crossed over to Turkey and defected. She is the first member of parliament to do so. She said she was leaving “because of the methods of repression and brutal torture that are practiced on the people, who make the slightest demand for their rights.” The Syrian parliament is of course a rubber stamp and its sessions with al-Assad are marked by an embarrassing amount of sucking up. It is significant to have a Baath Party MP defect, because these are the loyalists of the loyalists.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Abdelatif al-Dabbagh, has defected, along with his wife, Lamia al-Hariri, who had been the charge d’affaires in Cyprus. The military attache in the gulf oil nation of Oman has also gone to the other side. The ambassador in the UAE would have been responsible for attempting to convince that government to back off in its support for the revolution, which al-Dabbagh clearly has decided is not a plausible task. The Gulf oil states play an outsize role in the region because of their vast wealth and ability to channel resources and weapons to the opposition (the UAE doesn’t, unlike Qatar and Saudi Arabia, appear to be supplying arms, but its support for one side or another is important).

Earlier in July, Nawaf Fares, the Syrian ambassador to Iraq, defected and alleged that Syria had been playing a sinister role in fomenting bombings in northern Iraq. Likewise, the powerful Tlass family of Sunni notables (prominent in the ministry of defense and in business) has left, and Manaf Tlass is now attempting to play a political role in the opposition. The Tlass’s were pillars of the Baath regime, helping to legitimate it with the Sunnis (who form some 70% of the Syrian population) and their defection is a significant blow to the Baath, dominated increasingly at its upper levels by minority Shiite Alawites.

In addition, dozens of one-star generals have gone to Turkey or joined the rebel forces.

Revolutions always involve dual claims of sovereignty. That is, two political forces have to vie over the loyalty of people and political legitimacy. The significance of this raft of defections is that gradually, the Syrian regime is no longer merely faces claims by a ragtag band of defecting corporals and sergeants, or by crowds gathering to chant and protest in town and city centers (both forms of opposition are still going on daily all around the country). The regime increasingly faces a former part of its own political elite, now increasingly denigrating its legitimacy or making claims of their own. This sign of the growth of dual sovereignty in the political sphere could be more decisive over the medium term than who wins what battle for what neighborhood.

15 Responses

  1. Funny how all these defectors seem to play the morality/humanitarian card once Assad’s iron-grip on power seems to be fading…
    On another note is there not a significant risk of blowback for the Qataris in the form of Iran, with whom their relations seem to have been cordial up until recently? Seems pretty risky to me.

  2. U.S purpose in Syria is to weaken Iran, an ally of Syria, and Hizbullah who get their arms from Iran through Syria. When the Alwaite regime is thrown out and sunnis are running Syria all ties with Iran will be cut off and Hizbullah will pose no threat to Israel. Al-Qaeda or some other extremist groups who help U.S. achieve that goal are O.K. When in power and they impose sharia law U.S. will denounce them. Or not.
    After these sunni extremists are in power in Syria they will be in a perfect position to continue undermining Iraq, which has become an important political ally of Iran, after U.S. removed Saddam Hussein.

    • I’m sure the U.S. would be quite happy to see the Syrian revolution weaken Iran and Hizbullah, but so far, our “purpose” there seems to be limited to steering weapons away from al Qaeda and towards the Syrian rebels themselves.

      link to nytimes.com

      After Tunisia and Egypt, looking at American actions in response to Arab Spring purely through the perspective of national power competition just isn’t viable.

  3. No doubt this current event will give comfort to the LoveGunners who fantasize about “resisting tyranny” (while busily supporting and facilitating and knuckling under to our uniquely American version of it at home.)

    Maybe Canadians and Mexicans (abetted by the Iranians and the Chicoms and Rooskies, of course) will facilitate the cross-border delivery of large quantities of infantry arms to our home-fried Patriots, when the Government finally moves a division of the Troops We Support to a deployment near their homes. Anybody read or seen “Even Days In May,” recently? link to en.wikipedia.org How about “Broken Arrow”? Anybody know anything about “Operation Garden Plot,” link to globalsecurity.org ? Which has been activated to help protect the vital asse(t)s of the two national political parties’ national-convention delegates against any kind of risk of pollution or uncomfortable petitioning for redress of grievances? link to www2.tbo.com

    So much to be prepared for…

      • Either you don’t get it, or you don’t get it.

        What’s YOUR plan for “resisting tyranny?” Go to work carrying water for the government? Or something more along the lines of the Michigan Militia? Fat white guys in camo duds pretending to be dangerous commandos, between work weeks at Wendy’s?

        And may the many different kinds of people in Syria succeed in outlasting yet another tin pot dictator who for whatever reasons thinks it’s wise to kill the people he rules. How many of those has the “government” you are going to “resist” supported, for “reasons of state” that I bet you agree with? Jonas Savimbi? Battista? The Shah? And not so long ago, even Our Friend Against The Iranians, Saddam Hussein?

        • I don’t have a plan for resisting tyranny.

          It’s their country, it’s their dictator, so our job is to back them, and their plan, up.

          I think if you’re talking about using force to “resist tyranny” in the United States, you’re a kook. If you think an American living in the United States has even the vaguest experience with tyranny, like that endured by the Syrians under Assad, the Libyans under Gadaffi, or the Egyptians under Mubarak, you’re living in a fantasy world.

          How many of those has the “government” you are going to “resist” supported, for “reasons of state” that I bet you agree with? Jonas Savimbi? Battista? The Shah? And not so long ago, even Our Friend Against The Iranians, Saddam Hussein?

          As I’ve said, I think the notion of Americans “resisting tyranny” by opposing our own government is foolish. As for what you “bet” I agree with, I don’t support that sort of “our bastard” statecraft, and that is one of the biggest reasons why I am so pleased by the change the Obama administration had demonstrated in its response to Arab Spring.

    • “Anybody read or seen “Even Days In May,” recently?”

      If you are referring to the film “Seven Days in May,” I saw it when it premiered some 45 years ago, and I saw it on Turner Classic Movies again a couple of years ago. Good movie, but the premise did not then, and does not now, apply. I know that it delights those who love to deal in conspiracy theories of the “Oliver Stone” variety (The U.S. Government–or some element of it– is aways up to some nefarious activity, even if it appears benign, and it is always engaging in some massive coverup). Shocking as it may seem, the U.S. does occasionally act above-board and in good faith to promote a decent outcome.

      • Why would it not be shocking, on the rare occasions that it happens, when the enormous thing called the US government, through all its various branches and parts, ever does actually “occasionally act above-board and in good faith to promote a decent outcome”? You and I likely having very different ideas of what constitutes a “decent outcome.”

        Maybe because it’s kind of a rare occurrence? Or when it happens, it’s an unintended consequence of some other action directed toward one or more aspects of achieving hegemony and oiling the wheels of the prolongation of our grotesquely consumptive “wayoflife?” You profess belief that “the US” is at least sort of good, or at least that you are ok with the few behaviors that we get to see (via Wikileaks, and other inadvertences.) A lot of your fellow citizens, myself included, are sick of the terminal sickness of Empire. No ‘conspiracy theories’ needed — just the ability to read, and remember.

        And yes, there is more than enough evidence that there’s a huge amount of “nefarious activity.” And more than enough evidence that dirty US fingers, stuck into the pots that other people have to eat out of, are causing enormous sicknesses across the whole planet. “Wild Bill” Donovan’s and J. Edgar’s and the Dulles’s heirs and successors, aided and abetted by faceless thousands of careerists in all the great agencies, are at it, every day, hot and heavy.

        • Thank you for your post, which serves to confirm my observation about those who live in the alternative universe of conspiracy theories, plots, nefarious activities, and various assorted iterations of the Black Arts. And let’s not forget the Illuminati?

  4. None of these political or diplomatic defections sound even remotely significant. Gen. Tlass’s defection surely was, but the fact the regime was able to swat down the rebel assault in Damascus and is now likely to do the same in Aleppo seems to indicate they still have the support of enough of the military command to hold on for some time.

    • The defections are significant because there are defections. Even 6 months ago, seasoned observers were cautioning that there hadn’t been any defections.

      Things change.

    • If U.S. Ambassadors to other countries defected condemning Washington D.C., I think you’d consider it to be significant.

  5. The defections in Libya against Qaddafi seemed to be the turning point in resolving the stalemate that had been created by the NATO support of the Libyan rebels.

    The importance of a series of high-ranking Syrian military and diplomatic leaders cannot be understated. It is the most salient indicatication of the Assad regime crumbling from within.

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