Another Arab dictatorship looks ready to collapse, and this one might have the biggest impact of them all. The embattled Bashar Assad regime in Syria lost its Prime Minister overnight, as Riyad al-Hijab fled to Jordan and announced his defection:
Syria’s prime minister defected to Jordan on Monday, according to news reports, becoming the most senior official yet to quit the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad.
A statement read on the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel that was described as coming from Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab said he had resigned to protest his government’s harsh tactics as it escalates its efforts to crush the country’s 16-month-old rebellion.
“I am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime,” the statement said. “I join the ranks of this dignified revolution.”
State television from Damascus reported that Assad had “fired” his Prime Minister after less than two months on the job. They didn’t make that claim about General Manaf Tlas, who bailed out of Syria a month ago to the day. Apparently, it’s hard to keep good help when bombing their cities.
The appointment of al-Hijab looks curious in retrospect. The Post notes that al-Hijab came from a town that has been in open rebellion for more than a year, Deir el-Zour in the east. Given the strong ties of tribes in Arab culture (a lesson that the US learned the hard way in Iraq), why would Assad have appointed al-Hijab in the first place? That would have been a huge red flag, unless Assad is so desperate for allies that al-Hijab was his only option, or at least the best of a bunch of high-risk choices. If that’s the case, then his regime is closer to collapse than many may have thought.
Is that good news, though, or bad news? Watching Iran’s closest ally and terrorist enabler fall will certainly give us momentary satisfaction, and hopefully might disrupt Hezbollah enough for Lebanon to free itself from their grip. Assad played a vital role in propping up the terrorist organization, in partnership with Iran. However, what replaces Assad will almost certainly be worse (via Jen Rubin):
The day Assad falls, there will be an explosion of anger not just against him and his inner circle, but against all Alawites, his minority sect (about 12 percent of the population), and against those Christians who long ago decided that an alliance with Assad was their least-worst option. The jihadis will take the lead in this butchery — and make every effort to remain leaders thereafter. …
Such concerns have policy implications. To stop Assad’s carnage as soon as possible requires providing material support to Syrian rebels — very carefully and probably covertly. We want our Syrian friends — we do have some — in possession of more money and guns. That will not only help them defend themselves against Assad’s troops now, it also will enhance their strength vis-à-vis other factions later. What’s more, Obama has said many times that we are at war with al-Qaeda. Surely that implies we should not permit al-Qaeda to get the upper hand — not in Syria, not in Iraq, not in Africa, not anywhere.
When the fighting is over, the last thing we should want to see is the rise of yet another strongman. A regime dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood would be no victory for freedom either.
Clifford May has more optimism about the endgame than this excerpt suggests, but he urges intervention by the US in the rebellion in order to guarantee a better outcome. Given what we’ve seen so far from the Arab Spring — the rise of jihadis and the Muslim Brotherhood — we could hardly do worse. However, given our track record on interventions, I’m not sure we’d end up doing much better , either. In Iraq we did, but only at a huge cost in resources and time, and even then our gains may well prove temporary. In the first Afghanistan intervention, we made matters much worse, which is why we’re in Afghanistan now. Without an overwhelming force in place , I’d say that an Egypt outcome after Assad falls is probably our best-case scenario.