There has been a worrying over-simplification by large swathes of the media regarding Syria in recent months. The dominant narrative goes something like this: the regime is finished, it is only a matter of time before the peaceful protestors triumph and the Assads are swept from power. I am more skeptical. The Assad regime, while employing murderous and brutal tactics, has proved surprisingly robust so far. The leadership of the army has remained largely loyal, even though foot soldiers are increasingly defecting, and the key cities of Aleppo and central Damascus, whether through fear or genuine loyalty, have remained quiet until now. Unless Assad suddenly accepts an offer of asylum and flees, or someone in the regime or army decides to launch a coup against him, i can’t see the regime crumbling in the next few months, even if its long-term survival must be in doubt.
However, while a few writers and journalists have been pointing out that the ‘Assad is finished’ narrative is premature, some have lurched too far the other way. Jonathan Steele, for example, seems to think that some kind of mediation is still possible suggesting that the Arab League should appoint, ”a group of eminent independent Arabs to listen to all sides in the Syrian crisis.” This is a noble idea, but surely the Assad regime has by now shown that it doesn’t care for its neighbours’ advice. If Turkey could not persuade them, surely an Arab delegation can’t either. A delegation from China, Russia and Iran,would be a different prospect, but even then Assad’s contempt for mediators suggests it would fail.
To a further extreme, Alistair Crooke argues that the whole Syria crisis is part of a wider ‘game’ orchestrated by the West and Saudi Arabia to flip Syria from its alliance with Iran. This is again, an over-simplification. While Saudi and the US may see the benefit of a post-Assad Syria ditching its ties to Iran (although i question if this would happen – unless Israel suddenly surrendered Golan), they have been reactive rather than pro-active throughout this crisis. There is a danger that the Syria crisis is only viewed through the Iran prism, which is a mistake. Mr Crooke does a disservice to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people to end dictatorship and stop the violence by implying that they are simply being manipulated by insidious external forces.