Syria: Understanting the Conflict
Middle East Expert
Today’s political scene within the Middle East is peppered in conflict and uncertainty. In a post-Mubarak Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood may officially take over in an effort to spread Islamist supremacy. In Libya, the overthrow and death of Muammar Gadaffi leads to a nation whose fate is unknown. Suicide bombers and armed attacks continue in Yemen to overthrow the ruling government and oust American influence. Iran is continuing to enrich uranium at accelerated amounts to build a nuclear bomb to ensure regional hegemony. Israel continues to be threatened on all sides and must deal with new realities throughout the region. This report will examine the current crisis in Syria from the founding of the civil war, actors in support and defiance of the Assad regime, and consequences and recommendations in addressing the conflict itself.
The conflict in Syria is an extension of the “Arab Spring” – a regional movement to overthrow tyrannical governments and replace them with more liberal secular leaders, at least that is the public theory. After successes in Tunisia and Egypt, it had inspired and rejuvenated a population in demanding liberal reforms due to harsh economic and political conditions that stifled growth and development as societies. Yet, while there were/are elements within the opposition of these conflicting nations that can be considered liberal and secular, there is an underbelly of opposition that is well organized and demands a more conservative Islamist government such as, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Syrian rebellion started on March 16th, 2011 in what became known as the “Day of Dignity” protest. Much of the information regarding the event was spread via social networking channels like Facebook and Twitter, after realizing the successes of such technology during the Egyptian revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak. While sites like Facebook and Twitter are banned in Syria, those tenacious enough worked around ban through proxies. The “Day of Dignity” protest was organized in an attempt to protest local grievances against the Syrian government, however, police and military units arrested at least 35 protestors in Damascus. Similarly, the “Day of Rage” protest in Deraa brought a massacre at the hands of the Syrian military where dozens were killed. Yet prior to these events that kicked off months of armed conflict, Syrian political prisoners were on hunger strikes demanding to be released and a man by the name of Hassan Ali Akleh al-Hasakah set himself on fire in a similar fashion of what happened in Tunisia in which sparked the wider regional uprisings. All these events culminated into a wider effort of destabilization in Syria to this day.
After the “Day of Rage” and “Day of Dignity” protests and even after mild concessions by the Syrian government itself, conflict continued with the Syrian military cracking down on protestors which included arrests and killings but protestors continued to come together in opposition of the government and even organized themselves into an armed faction to fight against the ruling Assad regime. The back and forth attacks between opposition and government forces have been continuous and doesn’t bear reporting, however, what is important to know are those behind the scenes of the events that are organizing the efforts.
Make Up of the Syrian Government
To better understand Syria’s ruling officials one has to understand how the government of Syria is structured. Like many governments around the world, there are three branches of the Syrian government which is comprised of an executive, legislative, and judicial branch. The National Progressive Front is a coalition of Ba’athist parties that control the legislature and the executive which is headed by Bashar al-Assad. The National Progressive Front has enabled itself to rule Syria with a majority since the 1970s and allegiance is pledged to al-Assad to confirm party and government loyalty.
The legislature is known as the People’s Council and comprises of 270 seats. These seats are obtained through parliamentary elections. The recent election this past May in 2012 concluded the Ba’ath party, again, maintained the majority with 169 seats with 81 allocated to independent parties. Recent announcements of government transparency preceded the election and Syrian official reports indicate that voter turnout was just over 51%.
In the early stages of civil unrest, president Bashar al-Assad made few concessions to placate the protestors such as releasing political prisoners, the sacking of his government, and lifting the State of Emergency that has been in place for decades. However, protestors wanted an immediate resignation of al-Assad himself and replaced with a new government. To ensure that power is maintained, given the history of Syria regarding various coups and coup attempts, it has been imperative to consolidate into one larger faction that controlled various industries and media and obtain the backing of the Syrian military. Given the state of demographics with Sunnis outnumbering Shias and the ruling Alawi tribe – being Shiite – such consolidation is necessary under the guise of Arab nationalism and socialism.
Syria is an authoritarian regime – regardless of their democratic posturing. It is controlled by one party and allegiance is given to one man. Bashar al-Assad is current ruler of Syria and has been since 2000. His father, Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria from 1970 until his death in 2000 and helped create the structure of the government that is found today and ruled with an iron fist.
Bashar al-Assad, in his younger years, had no interest in politics and wanted to be a licensed ophthalmologist. Politics did not concern him and left such an occupation to his father and brother, Basil al-Assad. In the 1980s, Bashar studied medicine in Damascus and in 1992 resided in London to finish his medical studies at St. Mary’s hospital. In 1994 Basil al-Assad, who was the leader of the Presidential Guard and heir to his father’s position, was killed in a car accident. The death of Bashar’s brother swiftly changed the future president’s life and thus began a period of political grooming so that the young leader could take over Hafez’s office upon his death. In 2000, Hafez died and Bashar became president of Syria.
Initially, there was talking of some liberalization of the nation when it came to political freedoms and the economy but not long after taking office, Bashar did no such thing and ruled with authority just like his father. While domestically Bashar enjoyed the support of the Ba’athist party and the military and even many citizens this would not quell any attempt to uproot the Assad regime either through a liberal secular or an Islamist cause. Seeing that it would be difficult if not impossible to overthrow Assad or the Ba’ath party itself through the ballot box, the next best thing would be to go underground and formulate a plan of action to attack the regime itself.
The “Arab Spring” set in motion efforts that took years in planning. Unlike coups of the past, this would be witnessed by the world through the internet. As social media networks allowed information to be shared with the world of the realities on the ground, international condemnation of the Assad regime was swift and currently various groups are looking to find ways to end the conflict as thousands are already reported killed. But unlike Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt – three major countries whose governments collapsed over civil unrest, Syria continues to maintain the status quo of authoritarianism with Assad in charge.
Who Supports the Assad Regime?
Upon looking at the situation at face value, one would be hard pressed to believe if anyone actually supports Bashar al-Assad or the Ba’athist party, however, it is important to recognize the necessity of authoritarian regimes itself. Why would those in power rule with absolute authority and oppress their people? Why were people like Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, and others cling to power for so long?
The answer lies in the mentality of the Middle East itself. The Muslim Arab region is primarily tribal based and the tribe and family comes first. This has been the basic tenant for society for centuries and not much has changed since. The notion of Arab nationalism, socialism, pan-Arabism, or pan-Islamism is relatively new for the region but stems from bitter conflict with colonial powers like the French, British, Italian, and to some extent the Turks. As the saying goes “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” leads credence to the ability to set aside differences in an effort to combat a wider issue of perceived colonial hegemony. As nations were carved out and gained independence from their European masters, the structure of government is similar to what Europeans had with a parliament, president, prime minister, and even a monarchy. As nations gained independence, heads-of-state would be selected that were usually friendly to their former European counterparts but they would eventually be deposed in a coup and replaced with someone who was more in tune with establishing nationalism under a combination of Islam, socialism, and unity that broke away from European influence. One of the things that were kept, however, were the institutions of government itself – the executive, legislative, and judicial. One notable exception to this was Iran after the deposing of the Shah in which the government was completely replaced with a theocracy.
But in order to secure power, force must be used in order to get the tribes and other sects in line with the ruler. It is no surprise that whoever is in charge, his tribe will benefit greatly and this was evident with Saddam Hussein and the Tikriti tribe as well as Bashar al-Assad and the Alawi sect of Islam and the Kalbiyya tribe. This often brings animosity from other tribes and conflict ensues due to the power generated by the ruler at their expense. Those who oppose the ruler are quickly imprisoned or killed. Tribal conflicts are nothing new in the Middle East and can often last for generations. It was no surprise that when Saddam Hussein lost power, the Tikriti tribe paid a heavy price in revenge killings and other forms of retribution. So it is necessary for leaders to rule with authority unless they are willing to endure coup attempts to have that leader replaced with an opposing member of another tribe. Couple this with fervent religion like Islam and it makes for a dangerous combination. Authoritarian regimes create stability and as a result, people will support that regime without question. This is why democracy is not possible in the region to the extent that Westerners are familiar with. This is, of course, a basic outline of the overall situation regarding government in Muslim countries in the Middle East as there are other – more complex – factors involved.
Russia is considered one of the staunchest supporters of Assad’s regime and the relationship between Russia and Syria has been solid since the early days of the Cold War. During the Cold War, Russia aided in propping Syria up militarily in an effort to put American influence and expansion in check in the Mediterranean and through the rest of the Arab world while sustaining its own. In those days, the Soviet Union armed Syria against their enemies but also established a heavy Communist presence in Syria itself. Many within the nation from the ruling government to the armed forces were considered Communist sympathizers and as many nations in the Middle East were opposed to the Eisenhower Doctrine in the 1950s, it would have made sense for the Soviet Union to present itself in a way that was counter to everything western. Such a relationship continues to this day though more subdued.
As a result of the Russo-Syrian relationship, Russia maintains a naval presence in the city of Tartus and works cooperatively with the Syrian military. Earlier this year, a small flotilla of ships which was led by Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov docked in Tartus in a show of support of the Assad regime. Later, there were various reports by news outlets and watchdog groups that munitions were being sent to Syrian troops from Russian ships to aid in defeating rebels. This was then followed by reports that Russian Special Forces deployed to Syria to help fight protestors and rebel forces. These reports were venomously denied by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov but for months, the Russian government remained committed in their support of the Assad regime.
As of May 26th, 2012, Russian president Dimitry Medvedev met with former Secretary General of the U.N. Kofi Annan in support of the Annan peace plan which would call for an end to the Syrian conflict. This public support may signal a shift in Russian relations not to Syria itself but rather to the Assad regime. With Syria as the last ally the Russians have in the Middle East, Russia must not afford to lose their place and realize that throwing their support behind Assad will damage their reputation through the world. Should the Assad regime collapse a new government would be hostile to Russia and relations damaged to the point where Russia would not enjoy continued benefits in military and trade. However, should Assad succeed in maintaining power and quelling the revolt and Russia continue their support they will have everything to gain.
The Iranian-Syrian relationship goes as far back as the Iranian revolution. Both nations have aided each other against their enemies during this time – namely Iraq and Israel – and after the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 by U.S.-led forces, their relationship continues to grow. Prior to the Syrian conflict, both Iran and Syria proclaimed their hatred towards Israel and propped up groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in opposition to the Jewish state. Iran provided weapons and other logistics to Hezbollah and Syria acted as an intermediary in distributing materials to these terrorist groups. In 2004, Iran and Syria signed a mutual defense agreement to come to each other’s aid if attacked.
In late 2011, Iran successfully negotiated the construction of a military base in Syria in exchange for $23 million to aid in weapons facilitation. Besides the construction of a military base, much of the Western world recognizes that relationship between Syria and Iran and has publicly condemned that relationship. It is understood that Iran is providing material support to the Assad regime in order to quell protestors which includes rockets, mortars, anti-aircraft missiles, and electronic surveillance equipment. In late May 2012, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Deputy Commander of the al-Quds force, Ismail Gha’ani, admitted to sending IRGC troops to Syria and working alongside the Syrian military. The loss of Syria would deal a blow to Iranian hegemony at a time when they are trying to secure power through the development of nuclear weapons.
The word shabiha is a slang term to describe a thug or criminal. In Syria the shabiha is a gang of people – about the Syrian equivalent of the Italian mafia in the U.S. – whose enterprise consists of racketeering, drug dealing, robbery, and other illegal activities. The shabiha originated in Latakia and most of the shabiha’s members are within the Alawite sect and headed by members of Assad’s family.
During the early days of the protests, the shabiha were sent to harass protestors and commit acts of violence which included murder. According to civilian reports within Syria, members of the shabiha joined with the Syrian 4th Armored Division – which is commanded by Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher – to attack civilians and protestors who openly oppose the regime. Tactics include drive-by shootings and sniping from rooftops. According to the BBC, many people feel that the shabiha is carrying out sectarian violence against Sunnis deliberately in an attempt for President Assad to tell the nation and the world that rebels are using the civil unrest to carry out religious attacks against each other. Meanwhile, members of the shabiha, dressed in civilian clothes, assist soldiers in beating back protestors, some of which has been caught on footage.
The Shiite terrorist group that openly attacks Israel and threatens Lebanese citizens have voiced their support of the Assad regime. Like Iran, Hezbollah has provided assistance to the Syrian military such as helping train personnel and sending Hezbollah fighters to the Lebanese-Syrian border. Hezbollah shares three things with the Assad regime: opposition to Israel, Muslim identity, and allying with Iran. There is an added concern of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence within the region that is calling Hezbollah to arms in defense of Assad in an attempt to prevent the Brotherhood – a Sunni organization – to control Syria in some way, shape, or form.
However, continued support of the Syrian government may cost Hezbollah credibility with their own supporters. As Hezbollah operates on public support, many within Lebanon are questioning Hezbollah’s decisions and are dividing even some of the most hard-lined supporters. It is important to remember that the Syrian military recently left Lebanon in 2005 after nearly 30 years of occupation following the Lebanese civil war and many within Lebanon still harbor resentment towards Syria and their considerable influence within national politics.
Who Supports the Opposition?
It can be somewhat difficult pinpointing who exactly is spearheading the opposition movement in Syria. But one thing is certain regarding the opposition and that is the fact there is a coalition of groups that is working to overthrow the Assad regime. Many of these groups work in ignorance of the consequences of a post-Assad Syria and others have been meticulous in calculating the strategies necessary to be successful in order to carry out a nefarious agenda in the long-term. Yet the media has failed to provide an overview of much of the opposition but instead reports on the United Nations’ efforts in creating a cease-fire. It is important to recognize who is opposing the Syrian government as it is an indicator of what to expect should the Assad regime fall.
The United States
President Obama and members of his cabinet have openly condemned the government crackdown on protestors and called for a cease-fire. Unlike Libya, the U.S. is not committed to engage militarily in Syria – at least not at this time. There have been reports that the U.S. is providing arms to rebel groups in Turkey. A trip earlier this year by Senators Harry Liberman and John McCain to Syria has admitted to supplying communications equipment to the rebels. If true then it would give the Assad regime legitimacy in describing the uprising as led by foreigners.
Currently, the United States – and other nations – expelled Syrian diplomats after massacres taking place in Syria and Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina has called for a no-fly zone being created and enforced. Because it is an election year, it would not be beneficial for President Obama to be engaged militarily as it could jeopardize his chances for re-election. With the war in Iraq concluded and Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. military is undergoing a budget cut and realignment. As cuts are being made to personnel, concern over the availability and effectiveness of forces is put into question. Outside factors must also be taken into consideration such as the Russian military presence as well as groups like Hezbollah and remnants of the Syrian military continuing their operations with seemingly efficiency.
Public opinion also must be considered as a Pew Research poll from March 2012 showed just over 60% of Americans saying they disagreed that the United States is responsible for the conclusion of the Syrian conflict. This can be attributed to the poor economy and war-weariness. Should the president decide to use force against the Syrian government, this would add to Obama’s thickening war portfolio and may not favor the incumbent during the election in November. Should the conflict drag on past the November election and Obama wins reelection then it is possible that military force may be authorized but a plan for a post-Assad restructuring of the country may fail to materialize. Should Mitt Romney win the election then it seems less likely that military force will be used in an effort to appease constituents as the economy is top priority.
The United States has voiced support of a Yemeni-type solution where the leader steps down in exchange for immunity in an effort to stop armed conflicts. This stance is more realistic as it secures Assad’s freedom in exchange for power and a new government is created without the use of international forces. This solution seems more likely to be favored through the duration of the conflict.
The European Union has come together to state a desire for the conflict to be resolved through the United Nations. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been committed in negotiating a durable cease-fire but his efforts have met with failure thus far. There is no talk of the use of international troops to stop the conflict, however, the EU is becoming more forceful in their resolve in addressing the war. As more people are being killed in Syria, Germany, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain, and other nations in and outside of Europe have expelled Syrian diplomats. On top of diplomatic expulsions, earlier this year, the EU froze assets of several high-level Syrian officials and imposed economic sanctions on Syria itself such as the prevention of the sale of gold and precious metals as well as goods.
The Europeans deny helping to aid Syrian rebels to vast extents but there does seem to be supplies such as communications equipment being sent to the Free Syrian Army. Kosovo openly supports the rebels and that has caught the attention of Russia. The Russian government has warned Kosovo to not allow Syrian rebels to train in their country for obvious national interest reasons but also because it can compromise diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis.
One notable opposition member who visited Kosovo was Ammar Abdulhamid. Abdulhamid is the founder of the Thwara Foundation in Washington D.C. and is a civil-rights activist for Syria. In an interview with the Associated Press while in Pristina, Abdulhamid mentioned that he was there “to learn…Kosovo has gone through an experience that I think will be very useful to us in terms of how the different armed groups that formed the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) organized themselves”. What is being taught are tactics to kill government and military officials, raze villages, and commit acts of genocide that was prevalent during the Kosovo conflict in the 1990s. Remember that the KLA was listed as a terrorist group in the United States until 1998.
The United Nations
The U.N. has been working to find a concrete solution in the Syrian conflict but whatever action the organization takes lacks teeth. So far a U.N. resolution which calls for the resignation of Bashar al-Assad has been vetoed by Russia and China on the grounds that more discussion was needed in addressing the conflict and that the resolution itself was unbalanced compared to the opposition and their activities.
Former Secretary General Kofi Annan has made an attempt in negotiating a cease-fire with a six-point plan which was endorsed in March by much of the international community. Annan’s negotiations with al-Assad has been met with failure and since then there have been countless attacks against both protestors and military forces. Many have resulted in mass deaths in clashes and even terrorist attacks.
Annan is currently discussing resolving the conflict with Assad again, however, there seems to be little progress. Meanwhile, approximately 300 U.N. monitors have been deployed in Syria to observe the situation in the country and report any issues that is jeopardizing the people. 300 people in a nation of over 20 million will hardly constitute a successful effort in monitoring the crisis and given that they are not armed nor have assurances of protection while they are in Syria makes this particular effort futile. Couple this with Annan’s plan which calls for the cease of hostilities, the release of prisoners, and recognition and freedom of opposition groups makes the U.N. appear weak. As the conflict continues in Syria, the U.N. is still working to bring peace. Due to Chinese and Russian resistance to publically denounce Assad while holding veto power any formal request for tougher sanctions or the organization of a peace-keeping force will be next to impossible.
Muslim Brotherhood proxy Hamas has officially backed the Syrian opposition. For years Syria acted as a headquarters for Hamas, however, in February 2012 Ismail Haniyeh declared solidarity with the rebels as they fought the Assad regime. Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader, spoke while on a trip in Egypt which has already undergone transformation to become governed by the Muslim Brotherhood. This sudden switch is not surprising given the current situation regarding the Brotherhood as they look to expand their influence throughout the Middle East. Syria acted as a safe haven for Hamas leadership for years as they attacked Israel and based their headquarters in Syria to plan attacks and strategize over long-term goals. Earlier in 2012 Hamas closed their headquarters and declared support for the rebels which is causing friction with Hezbollah. Israel could benefit from this conflict as it divides the collective efforts of both terrorist groups who are now at odds and make their efforts to destabilize Israel less effective. However, this should not discount the power of Hamas who may benefit from a Brotherhood controlled Egypt as it would allow unmitigated access to supplies across the border into the Gaza Strip. It appears that Hamas is realizing the futility of supporting a sect that they would otherwise be at odds with and are hedging their bets with their parent, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Free Syrian Army
The Free Syrian Army is considered the backbone of the rebellion that is fighting the Syrian government. The FSA was created during the Deraa massacre where some soldiers refused to shoot civilians and thus defected from their units. These soldiers and officers came together to form the FSA which is led by Air Force Colonel Riad al-Assad and continues to recruit members from military defections and general supporters of the rebel movement.
As the FSA conducts most of the attacks against the Assad regime there is concern that the tactics used in fighting the government violate human rights which include kidnapping and execution. Regardless of the attacks against FSA forces the organization continues to operate with outside support and international sympathy. Since most of the members consist of former members of the Syrian military the organization is structured in units with each unit’s area of operation assigned to particular regions and employ guerilla tactics against targets of interest. Certain battalions specialize in specific functions which include logistics acquisition, communications, transportation, intelligence, etc while others focus on combat.
While most of the FSA consists of Sunni Muslims, FSA leadership appears to accept recruits from other faiths to include Alawites. This could be a matter of conflict later on should the Assad regime fall as members of the FSA and other groups will attack each other in revenge killings and power grabbing and cause further conflict similar to what happened in Egypt and Libya after the fall of Mubarak and Qaddafi respectively.
Earlier in 2012, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri voiced support of the Syrian rebels and urged the FSA and other groups to overthrow Assad but warned against using Western support. As a result of al-Qaeda’s support there have been a series of suicide car bombings which had the trademark of the terrorist group’s tactics. These terrorist attacks included car bombings against mosques in Damascus as well as government buildings to include the Syrian military intelligence headquarters. U.S. intelligence indicates that al-Qaeda is infiltrating the opposition movement and using front groups like the al-Nursa Front to destabilize the nation even more.
As the United States continues to kill al-Qaeda targets all over the world the power in which this terrorist group has is put into question. There is an agreement that since the death of Bin Laden and other top leaders of this organization, al-Qaeda does not have the power to fully commit to their operations as they wish. But because it has a vested interest in overthrowing governments they deem a threat to their goal in creating a complete ultra-conservative Islamic society, they are willing to use what resources they have to ensure the conflict drags on and weakens their enemies. How this will play out with the FSA or other opposition forces will be an eventual armed conflict between al-Qaeda and everyone else as those who seek power in a post-Assad world will be fighting for control. The one thing currently that is binding the opposition together is the desire to see Assad removed.
The Muslim Brotherhood
A vast Islamic organization that stretches throughout the world with its power based in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is perhaps the strongest faction fighting Assad. The Brotherhood’s use of proxy organizations ensures a steady stream of income and political influence as well as establishing a military wing through Hamas – which concentrated on fighting Israel. The goal of the Brotherhood is to create a new Islamic super state akin to the Ottoman Empire through the resurrection of the Caliphate.
As the Brotherhood is seeking total control of Egypt, the eventual power grab will legitimize the organization as it has been declared illegal in most of the Muslim world for decades to include Syria. Once the Brotherhood exerts its support and influence in gaining control of Egypt the support of the Egyptian military must be central to assure dominance. Once this happens, the Brotherhood will be more willing to capitalize off their success and expand their control through the Muslim world.
The Muslim Brotherhood currently holds the most number of seats in the Syrian National Council, a council which opposes Assad and based in Turkey, and are actively providing for rebel groups in both money and material. While the Brotherhood denies that they are looking to take over Syria, one only has to look at the goals of the Brotherhood itself to understand the desire to dominate the region in an attempt to create their Islamic state.
Consequences and Recommendations
Due to the number of factions currently fighting the Assad regime and the continued power Assad has through support both civilian and military, this conflict will drag out for another several months – at least. Assad understands that his fate could easily be that of people like Saddam or Qaddafi and be captured and killed or like Mubarak who was arrested. Dictators appear powerful to the media and the public but are deeply selfish and cowardly. Remember that Assad is not a career military officer or someone who even wanted a life in politics. Their own lives are more important than a cause and Assad will eventually agree to abdication for immunity and go into hiding – probably Iran – and live in obscurity.
The bigger question is who is going to control Syria? There are too many organizations involved in working to overthrow the current government and each one is different in their intent. Even with Assad gone there will no doubt be continued violence in the country as people attack each other for control. This will create more conflict and thus destabilize Syria further. What role other nations play will determine what relations they have with a new Syria.
Regarding the United States, there must be a careful examination of who the rebels are and what their intents are in a post-Assad Syria. The guise of freedom and democracy is a ploy to garner international sympathy and support. Islam and democracy are not compatible with each other and the result of anything remotely resembling freedom and democracy rests in whatever group gains power. Minority ethnic and religious groups will continue to be heavily persecuted.
The best course of action is semi-neutrality. Dossiers must be compiled on leading figures and analyzed to determine where they would fit in a post-Assad Syria. Should they be deemed a threat to American interests in the Middle East then they should be assassinated in secret. On a public scale, the U.S. should express sympathy to the opposition and demand Assad to step down not for the sake of building positive relations with whoever takes over the country but rather the international community at large which includes other Middle Eastern allies and the Europeans. Though Assad represents a balance of power in the area, the United States cannot afford to throw support behind a regime that has already been declared too unruly for relations.
Regarding other nations that have a vested interest in Syria such as Russia, the U.S. must warn them to not mettle in the affairs of the Syrian conflict in support of the government. Consequence to this is that the U.S. should build more positive relations with the Eastern Europeans in an effort to put the Russians in check. This can be done by way of expanding trade and security agreements.
As what is deemed part of the “Arab Spring” continues to illustrate, this may give various Islamic groups renewed zeal in overthrowing other own nations – especially those that work closely with the United States. As part of securing American interest, the United States must work with India in developing positive relations and cooperate together in continued defensive maneuvers. As India is a growing superpower, the U.S./Indian relationship can be a strong deterrence to other nations like Pakistan, who harbor Islamic terrorists, and even China, which looking to expand their influence just the same. In exchange for this new balance of power, the U.S. could vouch for India in being assigned a permanent seat on the Security Council at the United Nations.
Closer to the Mediterranean, The U.S. must continue to support Israel and provide means to secure their nation. As governments around them fall and/or allow for more conservative rule, the Muslim Brotherhood is looking to break off their peace treaty with the Israelis and attack them. As the Brotherhood works in gaining control of Egypt, should they do the same for Syria and be successful, then it will give this Islamic group the means to carry out a two-pronged attack on Israel in a more organized fashion. Though this is highly improbably from a conventional standpoint based on the pragmatism of Syrian or Egyptian leaders and the international community that would immediately call for a cease-fire and negotiations, the fervent behavior in eradication the Jewish state is primary in many Muslim nations and being put in a position of dominance will give such forces hope in wiping Israel off the map. At the very least sporadic attacks against the Jewish state will increase with efficiency.