Reports came out this past week that Assad’s forces may be on the brink of defeat. The battle is now essentially being fought over Damascus with the regime relying on increasingly desperate measures to continue fighting (though the Syrian Vice President is arguing the conflict remains a stalemate). The Assad regime’s strongest international allies are wondering about the regime’s longevity (while making sure to clarify that they remain ever-steadfast in their support of the regime). It is now the time to examine what a post-Assad Syria might look like.
The revolution in Syria has been an appallingly bloody affair – putting Syrians in grave danger, decimating the economy, destroying infrastructure, and increasing social hostility. Analysts have long feared that a victorious opposition would turn to retribution and sectarianism. I do not disagree that a post-Assad Syria will likely be a contentious, if not an outright dangerous, place, but is it certain that chaos will reign after Assad goes?
The devastation within Syria will undoubtedly guarantee that any post-Assad regime will face incredible challenges, but such difficulties do not guarantee that a post-Assad regime is doomed to failure. A post-conflict Syria is not locked into a path dependent course.
The current groups making up the Syrian opposition are divided. The Free Syrian Army remains dominant due to its alliance of fighting groups leading the armed struggle against Assad’s forces. Local Coordination Committees, often assisting the Free Syrian Army by passing information, remain focused on local organization and establishing some type of grassroots governance. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a new opposition group that seeks to become the platform for a new regime, is untested and faces a legitimacy problem as its members primarily reside outside of Syria. The divided nature of the opposition is troublesome, but too many overlook the positive features of Syria’s opposition.
First, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is an organization based on avoiding the mistakes of the former Syrian National Council. Second, the Local Coordination Committees have constructed a network of institutions that provide some measure of local governance – a resource on which to build a new Syria. Third, for all the hype given to the danger of jihadi groups operating within the opposition, their appeal is isolated and their reputation complicated by their outsider status.
Given the dangers that could result from post-Assad chaos, is it not finally time to truly engage the opposition? The opposition has provided lists of specific resources it needs to begin rebuilding the country. These requests are not for weapons, but rather aid in the form of foodstuffs, building materials, communication equipment, financial lending guarantees, and other similar items. The increasing desperation of the Syrian people and the failures in getting help to them provide further cause for action. Syria after Assad will be an uncertain place, but uncertainty can be diminished with engagement and strategic assistance.
Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.