Syria:  Putting the cart before the horse?
June 11th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

Syria: Putting the cart before the horse?

Analysis by Jill Dougherty

While Syrians are dying in horrendous attacks, it seems strange to hear diplomats talking about a "political transition" - a solution that, at this stage, seems like a pipe dream.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already is describing that transition in detail. To achieve this, she explained last Thursday in Istanbul, there must be a "real cease-fire."

"Second, (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) must transfer power and depart Syria. Third, an interim representative government must be established through negotiation," Clinton said in remarks after meeting with Turkey's foreign minister in Istanbul. "The transition phase must lead to a democratic, representative, and inclusive government. There must be civilian control of the military and security forces and respect for the rule of law and equality before the law for all Syrians."

Isn't that putting the cart before the horse?

But U.S. officials say there's a reason, even now amidst the bloodshed, for focusing on what should happen once al-Assad is gone, something Washington and its allies insist ultimately will happen.

Sure, everyone desperately wants a cease-fire, they say. Then you could move toward a political transition away from al-Assad.

"Why don't we have the cease-fire?" says State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "We don't have the cease-fire, a, because Assad's not stopping, but, b, because people inside Syria continue to help him to perpetrate his violence."

Senior members of the Syrian military support al-Assad, U.S. officials note. Senior Syrian business leaders do, too. Then there are folks sitting on the fence, as Secretary Clinton puts it.

Describing how the post-al-Assad Syria would look could help peel away those Syrians who still support him, Clinton believes.

"We know that many still cling to the Assad regime because they fear change more," she said last week. "There are still many inside Syria - and this is human nature, this is totally understandable - who are not yet convinced that there can be a transition that would not make the situation worse for them, their families, their group, their location."

Speaking of transition, explained Clinton, could help peel some Syrians away from supporting al-Assad by articulating a "roadmap" for democratic transition" so that they can imagine a better future for themselves and Syria."

With the military, for example, Nuland says, "creating the reality of a political track that creates a real alternative to Assad can help convince members of the military who may be ambivalent, but still obeying orders, that, hey, there's a way out of this."

It's not just some Syrians who worry that the conflict could ignite fighting throughout the region, however. Russian government officials say Moscow could envision having al-Assad leave in a negotiated settlement but, with the country already engulfed in the beginning stages of a civil war, Russia fears the country could dissolve into chaos if that happens in an uncontrolled manner

But Nuland says Secretary Clinton and other U.S. officials are warning their Russian counterparts: it could get worse.

"Certainly, when we talk to Russians and others who fear a rise of terrorism in the region, who fear instability spilling over borders, " she says, "among the points that we make is that continuing to protect Assad and buy time for him is increasing the likelihood that precisely what you say you don't want is going to come about."

The aim of crafting a post-al-Assad political transition, she says, is "to create a perception of inevitability and reality there with all groups that are concerned - international and Syrian - to peel off those who are still supporting Assad or who are afraid of change with the real prospect of how this can be done in a stable, managed way that supports the human rights and aspirations of all."

It sounds good, in theory. The real test will be - will Bashar al-Assad go along with it?

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. atatürk airport transfer

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    February 28, 2013 at 8:36 am | Reply
  2. timesofthescoffers

    " we need a real seace fire " ok hillary wake up
    kofi annon tired that FAIL
    got anymore brilliant ideas
    and STOP ASKING ASSAD TO STEP DOWN like hes this little boy you smacked and put in a corner !
    that will not happen !
    and we pay taxpayers dollars for this ??

    oh btw lets not help syria and whimp out while hundreds and thousands
    are dying !
    obamma you whimp!

    June 11, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  3. Mandor

    I'm torn in two directions
    1) the quiet small voice saying "if you do not help, they are dead. no one else will help them."
    2) a stubborn angry voice that says "goddammit why is it always the US who has to ride to the rescue? Isn't it about time someone else stepped up to bat? Why not China? Or India? Or the EU? Or Saudi? Or Canada? Or Turkey? Why does it always have to be us? How many more of ours have to die because no one else ever helps?"

    right now, I find the second argument a hell of a lot more persuasive.

    June 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  4. HPN

    This is ridiculous, a civil war support by 10% of the people is not a civil war. Its an uprising that will be squashed.
    When the South decided to start a civil war with the north, first they assessed if they had enough people, power, and supplies, to win a war, if not then you wait till you do. You don't go out and start a fight you can't win and then beg foreign governments to come to your rescue.

    June 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Mandor

      Part of it is that it didn't start out as an armed uprising. It started out with people peaceably demonstrating against Assad, hoping to replicate what Egypt and Tunesia (sp?) did. Assad replied with a heavy handed crackdown.

      And that... that is where people should have stopped and done the math and said, hey, if we go into full scale rebellion, can we really pull this off? But they didn't. Understandably, emotion ruled the day, and they wanted to take a stand, and cast their defiance at him. More crackdowns. More people getting their back up and letting pride get in the way of cold hard facts.

      I am sympathetic to the people in Syria, but this is not our war. Let's face it, if the US came in and removed Assad tomorrow without a single life being lost (HA! But let's go with that for the sake of the argument...), ANY new regime that took power would forever after be perceived as being a wastern puppet. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Crops could fail due to bad weather and the US would be blamed. And honestly, I don't see any way to remove Assad military without a lot of our own ending up in body bags. I'm sorry. Our military has already paid far too high a price over the last decade to get involved into another war when the US is not directly threatened.

      June 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • taskmaster

      Very Well said. You have a grasp of the situation.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  5. End Game

    One simple, little mindless dictator named Assad. One simple drone. One simple missile. An end to a complex problem that the Syrian people don't need.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • kls817

      You are very simple minded. When Assad is gone, do you think everyone is Syria will get along? Do you remember what happened in Iraq when Hussein was booted? Civil war and ethnic cleansing ensued and the US stayed long after Hussein was gone in hopes that the fighting would stop. The same thing will certainly happen in Syria and it may be much worse than Iraq. There are a lot of religious minorities, including Sunni muslims, Christians, Kurds, and others and they will all be heavily persecuted by the dominant Shiites.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
    • asdf

      Wow I bet you really fell for the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
      • Mustafa

        Its really funny about inidnas.After 96 world cup it is a habit that Sri Lankan team throw them out of multi nation tournements.In Asian cup also inidnas last match is against Sri Lanka.I really feel soory for them. Best thing for india is playing their own country.the pitches are made for them.out of their country indian team is nothing.I hope atleast they will win 2 t20 matches against zimbabwe.After that they can think about making a good fight against Sri Lanka. (0)

        September 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • MJ

      you are not smart at all go away

      June 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
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    June 11, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply
    • byebye

      7726 = SPAM

      June 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  7. setnommarih

    America needs to get the drones out of our skies instead of putting them in someone elses sky. Enough with the drones already TERMINATOR is coming!

    June 11, 2012 at 8:05 am | Reply
    • AlexShch

      Do you mean Arnold?

      June 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
      • Saad

        Not only am I in agreement with Israel's stemteant in this matter, but I am ashamed the United States has not made a stemteant indicating that we will stand with our great ally. We should make it clear that an attack on Israel is the same as an attack on the United States. Syrian President Bashar Assad should be extremely careful about what stemteants come rolling off his tongue as well as Hezbullah, Hamas or any other group that thinks Israel is ripe for attack.

        June 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  8. LM


    June 11, 2012 at 8:03 am | Reply
    • Keith

      Syria will belong to the international bankers and the people behind this unrest. If you believe that this is a grass roots revolution you are dumber than the rocks in the desert.

      June 11, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
      • momo0828

        and the sand too..

        June 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
      • MJ

        Thump up

        June 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • MJ

      It does belong to the syrian

      June 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  9. Frankie

    What did the Syrian government do to it's people to have rebellion uprising ? I'm a little bit lost on what actually happened.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
    • WellHello

      The Syrian government protected its citizens from terrorists who slaughter women and children, fire RPGs into houses, then fake scenes and upload them on youtube under the guise of the "opposition". A majority of the Syrian people like President Bashar Al-Assad, it is also one of the few middleeastern countries that has full religious freedom. Syria is not a bad place, it had a lot of tourism, and wasn't dangerous for Americans. Now there are terrorists in there trying to oust Bashar Al-Assad and put a terroristic government in charge. If we intervene, Al Qaeda will have a country to operate out of.

      June 11, 2012 at 7:54 am | Reply
      • tet1953

        Your last sentence is the only one that makes any sense.

        June 11, 2012 at 7:56 am |
      • Frankie

        I don't understand what you are trying to explain.

        June 11, 2012 at 8:28 am |
      • Pete

        Yeah operating under emergency rule with unlimited authority for the military and no civil rights for the people is really....not a bad place

        June 11, 2012 at 8:59 am |
      • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

        Sounds like you are being an apologist for the Iranian government, which has been providing the financial backing for Syrian purchases of Russian made arms. The Assad clan represents a religious minority in Syria, akin to the Ismaili sect. The family was originally elected to office in what was a pretty fair election. Unfortunately for the Syrian people, the Assads then proceeded to rule as if they were Assyrian kings of the Biblical era, suppressing their traditional enemies, including Sunni and other Shi'ite sects.
        If anyone from the Western Hemisphere ever actually looks at the problems in the Middle East, you will see they all date back to 1919 when England and France were dividing up the former Ottoman provinces, combining peoples who had never been one nation, and separating others (i.e. the Kurds) to prevent their autonomy. Syria and Lebanon came under the jurisdiction of France. Iraq, Palestine and Jordan came under England. The fiasco of their imposed "international borders" has let to what is today the troubles we see caused by tribal and clan feuds going back centuries.

        June 11, 2012 at 9:34 am |
      • Fred Evil

        Sure. It's terrorists. Terrorists that have no bodies to leave behind, terrorists who are never caught, terrorists who SHELL TOWNS FOR HOURS, and then sweep through and kill every man woman and child?!
        Load of bull-pucky, and you know it too, I'd wager.
        Shill for a dictator often?

        June 11, 2012 at 9:36 am |
      • emad


        June 12, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  10. Akrav

    Great anlysis, finally a real look and not just wishfull thniking. One thing is missing though – why is the U.S dragging it's feet, and what's behind the "Syria is no Lybia" thing? Afganistan that's what. Pakistan has closed it's suplly roots to NATO, and now all traffic goes through – wait for it – Russia! Syria's greatest ally. @RT – That's why there are no drones in there. Oh and Israel is just nearby – touchy subject for all Arabs.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:44 am | Reply
    • bugmenot

      Yous extremely geographically ignant

      June 11, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  11. KL

    Very shallow analysis with all due respect to Jill Dougherty

    June 11, 2012 at 7:38 am | Reply
  12. RT

    Obama should send some drones to convince assad about leaving... Obama pls drop some over his head

    June 11, 2012 at 6:16 am | Reply
    • tet1953

      No! No intervention by the west. Not this time, not anymore. We cannot afford it in more ways than one, it's not our fight, and another 10 years of war in Syria will not change anything. Fact.

      June 11, 2012 at 7:54 am | Reply
    • setnommarih

      America should stay out of this, a few fake Facebook postings and everyone OUTSIDE Syria is yelling for Bashar's head. I don't think anyone really knows except Bashar and close staff. America doesn't like UN getting involved in our business, we should stay out of their business. We already have enough drones flying around, beginning to look and feel like Terminator and Obama is going along with it, even the EPA has drones now. We better start looking out for our own freedom and let Syria go on by itself.

      June 11, 2012 at 8:03 am | Reply
  13. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    Putin and Hu Jintao are indeed "carts before the horse". The "cart" is their Realpolitic, which they have put before the will of the world to stop genocide by al-Assad! The "will of the world" is the "horse"!

    June 11, 2012 at 5:55 am | Reply
    • Brett

      Well put. Lets look at solutions. The business and military leaders will not jump ship until a critical mass of a popular uprising occurs. The situation is ripe for social media and internet leadership among students perhaps?

      June 11, 2012 at 6:49 am | Reply
      • desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

        I wish I knew the solution. We Christians have to pray to the Holy Spirit for answers. Perhaps a major role for Christians in alliance with the Kurds? They should be given a place at the table. I mean the Christian Archbishop and the Kurdish leader. Al Assad must be made to understand that the voice of all Syrian people must be heard! Let's organize a "round table" as it was done in Poland, in 1989. Wałęsa [the rebel] and gen. Jaruzelski [assad] both participated, and the people's [solidarity's] voice was heard. Hitherto it was believed "impossible" that those people could sit together. History is witness that they did. Lets ask the UN to organize something like that.

        June 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • alwi

      I doubt that your understanding on world afrfias surpasses Carter's. The Golan heights were not captured in a defensive war; it was captured in 1967 if you know the afrfias . Yes, peace is not possible in the Middle east if Syria is not part of it; so better negotiate with syria and let us stop aggravating our conditions.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply

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