Does Syria Stalemate Benefit Baath Regime?

Although it is hard to know what is going on in Syria on the ground, it does seem clear that the momentum is with the regime now, and no longer with the rebels.

The Syrian army has made important gains since last March. Regional non-state actors have emerged as important to Syria, whether Hizbullah on the regime side or al-Qaeda on the (mostly Sunni) rebel side.

Channel 4 News Reports

19 Responses

  1. Forgive my asking professor, but I puzzled about the role of the millions of Sunni refugees who fled Iraq to Syria during and after the invasion post Saddam Hussein. These people were as I understand it, in fear of the Shiites but they went to a Country where the government is friendly with Iran which is Shiite. Are the Iraq Sunni refugees of the same religion as the Sunni rebels fighting Assad and are they neutral as far as this battle goes. There are after all, several million of them.

    • They were mixed Sunni & Shiite, traumatized, and not a factor. Many have been forced back to Iraq. Numbers were exaggerated – at height 600,000

  2. Syrian expert, Joshua Landis, tells me (with permission) that there are no more than 5 or 6% of foreign fighters inside Syria fighting for the rebels.

    This counters the belief of many left wing activists I have encountered who essential buy the propaganda of the Assad government.

    • The foreign fighters are largely linked to the al-Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq, but constitute the most violent and extremist elements of the rebel forces. They number about 10,000.

      They have committed the lion’s share of massacres and suicide bombings, although praised in some quarters for their battlefield prowess and assistance to FSA units in battle.

      Even if the Free Syrian Army defeats Assad, a civil war may rage on between the FSA and its allies and these extremist elements, who hail largely from Iraq, bur also include Chechens and others.

    • The foreign volunteers do a disproportionate share of the fighting, and are always fighting in the most important battles. Wherever you see the rebels winning, you find the foreign volunteers in prominence.

      The Iraqi, Afghan and Chechen fighters all possess valuable experience of fighting at long odds against well-equipped conventional ground and air forces–experience hard-won in many years of combat against NATO and/or Russia.

      As it were, they have been trained and perfected by those who have warred upon them, and now they share their instruction and inspiration. The foreign volunteers possess the sort of prestige and indomitable morale which bolster all friendly forces with whom they come in contact.

      Their importance belies their numbers.

  3. Does the stalemate benefit Baath? Well, I suppose that depends on the alternative. It benefits them more than being totally wiped out by the rebels.

  4. The only way I see Assad reach the point of political and military collapse is if Russia and Iran cut off aid to Damascus (a prospect that is highly unlikely but not impossible).

    Assad controls areas in the south and center and rebels control territory in the North and East, so I think the best possible outcome is to either (a) let the rebels and government protect areas under their control rather than attacking each other or (b) Assad resigns and hands power to a transitional government (very unlikely).

  5. I don’t agree with your assessment that the “momentum is with the regime.” That is what SANA wants you to think; along with Western journos/politicians who prefer to devote energy to the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines (or any cause but Syria).
    In fact, a lot is happening in Damascus, Dara`a and Raqqa provinces which I do not see reported in the above media.
    But even if one accepted the notion of ‘stalemate’ – believe it is the rebels who gain in that they continue to be outweaponed & outmanned; survival is an achievement & along with it popular support which Assad appears unable to defeat.

      • The Syrian government has spent millions of dollars in fees to US. and European public relations and lobbying firms to promote the Assads and their government.

        One of the efforts that had been exposed was the promotion of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad by having Vogue magazine publish an article “Rose of the Desert” in 2011 that depicted her and her husband in a most positive light – showing them at home playing with their children, describing their relationship while Bashaar was in his medical residency in Britain and lauding Syrian security forces on their superior ability to maintain public order in a region where neighboring countries were in constant civil turmoil.

        The article became a huge embarrassment to the magazine once it came out that the impetus of the article was a public relations firm hired by the Syrian government and the magazine later redacted large portions of the article on its online website.

    • “But even if one accepted the notion of ‘stalemate’ – believe it is the rebels who gain in that they continue to be outweaponed & outmanned; survival is an achievement & along with it popular support which Assad appears unable to defeat.”

      Great comment.

      The leftists who are…let’s call them “anti-anti-Assad” understand how insurgents and guerrillas win by not losing when it is a western-backed government facing them. They understand this point when we’re talking about the Taliban, or the insurgents in Iraq.

      Yet in Syria, when the government forces that are backed by the major global power and the big regional power are brought to a stalemate by an insurgency, that’s presented as close to a win by the government forces. Odd.

      • The government side does enjoy a legitimate and fairly strong basis of support in certain regions and among certain segments of the population. That support has tended to consolidate during the past year or so. You don’t hear of many defections from the army or bureaucracy any more. Anybody who was going to jump, has jumped. The remainder are now more sure of one another.

        It is equally obvious that the various rebel factions also enjoys a legitimate and fairly strong basis of support in certain regions and among certain segments of the population.

        That’s why the civil war has lasted this long already. Every faction involved in the fighting is politically legitimate.

        Given that all participants currently fighting have one or more foreign sponsors who are willing to provide money, arms, and other succour, we can expect the civil war to last indefinitely.

        That’s why any effort to end the war requires a round table attended by all participants, whether internal or external. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, USA, Russia, Iraq, Qatar etc. etc.–everybody has got to take a seat and do a whole bunch of jaw-jaw.

        Nobody is benefiting from this in the great sense. As is always the case in war, no doubt there are some individuals here and there who have found a way to profiteer.

    • Last month the Syrian Support Group held a fund raising dinner in Bloomfield Hills, MI. http://www.syriansupportgroup.org

      There were speeches transmitted by satellite phone by Free Syrian Army military leaders to the gathering describing the military situation within Syria as well as speeches given by the SSG leaders emphasizing that the war was being fought bravely by the FSA and that donations were being transformed into meals medical supplies and other forms of effective support. The war was going well for the FSA, they emphasized. Financial support was being received from a broad cross-section of Americans.

      They also emphasized the huge public relations machine that the Syrian government has in the U.S. that receives millions in funding for lobbying and general public relations.

    • Unless Sherifa has sources not generally available (possible I admit, my information from Syria leaves much to be desired) this seems to be silly talk. All the news I have gotten from around Damasucus lately is about rebel defeats. Raqqa is ruled by ISIS which has purged the FSA from the area and is essentially Talibanizing. In Deir az-Zor Jubat an-Nusra and Ahrar ash Sham rule. Most importantly, Syria is in ruins and will continue to be in ruins for the indefinite future. Argue it is the fault of Assad all you want, for this to continue indefinitely is no ‘victory’ any right thinking person should cherish.

      And it is funny Joe uses the example of the Taliban and Iraq to stand in for the Syrian rebels. Last time I checked the US backed government in Iraq is still in power and the insurgents are either not fighting it with it or bands of terrorists massacring Shia. The Taliban have hold on some of the rural Pashtun countryside but their prospects of holding anything outside that seem low. They are passionately hated by all the non-Pashtun, much as the Syrian rebels are now loathed by Shia, Alawaites, Christians and Kurds. If that is the sort of ‘victory’ you foresee the rebels in Syria having, I suspect Assad would take it.

  6. There is an old counter-insurgency maxim that states: “The guerrilla wins if he does not lose, while The conventional force loses if it does not win.”

    I think that is true over the long-term. Nevertheless, in the case of Syria, the stalemate definitely benefits Assad in the short-term, as it enables him to hang onto power longer than would otherwise be the case.

  7. Stalemate ultimately favours no one, really, except those who would benefit from continued chaos.

    An immediate question of whether or not those immediately around him who have grown rich and fat would allow him to do anything without first determining just how those decisions could materially impact all those in the regime. Bashar must have figured out by now that he needs them, more than they need him. When thought about this way it puts his brother’s car accident in a possible new light.

  8. They shouldn’t feel at ease.

    Some Islamist rebel groups have formed a merger.

    And some Al Qaeda linked ones just took over an oil field. This is a blow for the regime in regards to keeping the military machine running for the Assad regime which can only now rely on outside oil.

    • The merger is partly aimed at what little is left of FSA and partly at ISIS, so I don’t think the regime has to worry about a lack of rebel infighting. And it isn’t like Syria was refining the oil for use in its warplanes anyway, you can’t just pour crude straight into a jet engine unless you are trying to wreck it. The loss of an oilfield more or less means a small change in the amount of currency the controlling side can get from smuggling, no more.

  9. This is the fire that will forge men of true character.

    Tolkien said, “From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
    Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king.”

    The Arabs have an expression:
    البَحرُ الجائعُ يَصنَعُ الرُّبّان الماهِر
    The tempestuous ocean forges the experienced Captain.

    Finally, let us not forget what Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Quran:
    قالَ موسى لِقَومِهِ: استَعينوا بِاللّهِ وَ اصبِروا إنَّ الأرضَ لِلّهِ يورِثُها مَن يَشاءُ مِن عِبادِهِ وَ العاقِبَةُ لِلمُتَّقينَ.

    “Moses said to his people: Seek help through Allah and be patient. Indeed, the earth belongs to Allah . He causes to inherit it whom He wills of His servants. And the [best] outcome is for the righteous.” – Quran 7:128
    link to quran.com

    Al Jazeera reports on the unification of seven rebel groups to fight Assad and to stand against al-Qaeda:
    link to m.aljazeera.com

    This is how steel is forged and there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

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