Once you’ve used all weapons in your arsenal, to no avail, and considering that you have been reassured over and over again of the fecklessness of international leaders and their red lines, the Sarin Call becomes too hard to resist. Has Assad finally succumbed? Has he really crossed Obama’s red line? Would it really make any difference if he had? Is there anybody out there?
How Mr. Assad might respond to Mr. Brahimi’s entreaty depends on his psychology, shaped by a strong sense of mission inherited from his iron-fisted father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad; his closest advisers, whom supporters describe as a hard-line politburo of his father’s gray-haired security men; and Mr. Assad’s assessment, known only to himself, about what awaits him if he stays — victory, or death at the hands of his people.
This is my take on Assad’s psychology: When cornered, a psychopath like Assad can only dash towards the precipice and plunge right in, dragging with him all those still grappling to his coattails, and whoever and whatever he is willfully pulling down along for the descent into hell. This is pure psychopathy, not bravery, nor even foolhardiness. So, he will cling on to Damascus to the bitter end. It’s the people around him who might be contemplating an Alawite enclave as Plan B. Personally, he has no such plan, not unless he was forced to “choose” it by his own enablers from within his loyalist base.
Mr. Assad was long believed to take advice from his mother; his brother Maher, who heads the army’s feared Fourth Division; his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat; and his cousins, the Makhloufs.
But his mother is believed to have fled Syria in recent weeks. Mr. Shawkat, the deputy defense minister, was killed in a bombing in July. The Makhloufs are believed to be spiriting money out of the country. Maher has been reported to have lost a leg in the bombing, but still to be commanding troops.
Turkish, Russian, Syrian and Lebanese analysts agree: Mr. Assad’s main advisers are now his father’s hard-liners and the leaders of the shabiha militias that have carried out attacks on government opponents.
If there ever existed moderates in the government who might cajole Mr. Assad to hand power to a successor who could preserve the Syrian state, that option now appears increasingly remote.
Decision-making in Assad circles has always been a family affair. In times of crises, the circle expands to include few trusted, and needed, mostly Alawite figures from the security apparatuses and the army. As such, we are talking about a group of men with a worldview that predisposes them to mistrusting and demonizing the entire world. There is no room for reason here. Logic is circular, and all diplomacy is meant to gain time while violence is unleashed to ensure victory, because that is the only acceptable outcome. If and when the “semi-rational” decision to withdraw to coastal areas is made, this will not signify a backing down from the fight, but an entrenchment meant to keep the fight going.
The only people who can defeat this small circle of Alawite men and foil their plans is the Alawites themselves, but to get the Alawite community to this point, the facts on the grounds has to change drastically in military terms, and the opposition has to come up with an enticing vision for the future of Syria that gives a role to the Alawites that is perceptibly bigger than what their demographic size would normally entail. The Alawites need a deal, and not only reassurances and guarantees regarding their basic rights. They need more than the basics, because, in psychological terms, they have had more than the basics for decades now. (In material terms, except for the corrupt elite, Alawites are as downtrodden as all other groups in Syria). Moreover, because they have learned to distrust the Sunnis in particular at such a deep and innate level, on the basis of a centuries-long experience, manipulating power was, to the Alawite, their only existential safeguard. So, for the Sunnis to insist on challenging this very control, when the Alawites themselves are convinced that the only real benefit that they ever derived communally from having this control is to ensure their safety, has ominous connotations for them and does not inspire trust.
If Assad worship is endemic in certain clans close to his family, it’s only skin-deep for the majority of the Alawites, who recognize that he and his henchmen are indeed corrupt. But the innate and universal distrust of the Sunnis trumps this recognition. That is why the majority of Alawite opposition members could not stand for a complete rejection of the system and opted for a gradual approach, supported in this by many Christians, Druse and secular Sunnis. It is this group that is looking for a deal as well as a structured transition plan in order to jump on the bandwagon of regime change.
This is what the Sunni-dominated opposition has failed to understand so far, or understand yet refuse to accept. Because within its ranks it, too, it has elements and groups that are playing a zero-sum game, mostly prominently among them the Muslim Brotherhood whose members represent the ultimate victims of the Assads, and who, therefore, ended up incorporating much of the ethos that made the Assads tick. But, by now, the growing sectarianism among the grassroots has strengthened the hand of the Sunni zero-sumers in this regard. A winner-takes-it-all mentality is exactly why the situation will continue to devolve, and is exactly the kind of situation that the Obama Administration should have foreseen. The signs were plentiful, and the writing on the wall was all too legible.
More videos showing the attack by regime forces in Homs City yesterday, December 23, that seems to have involved Agent 15 http://youtu.be/kuYSYOtbqlI , http://youtu.be/3QhghFuK8lE Frustrated local activist here says: “this is happening because of a green light from the America” http://youtu.be/ENXXON59XUg Assad’s forces have once again stepped up their attacks on rebel neighborhoods in Homs City. Most inhabitants have already left, but few thousands remain, including armed rebels, making taking control of the neighborhoods impossible. If Assad is following a script for the creation of an Alawite-majority enclave in coastal areas, then it is of paramount importance that his troops wrest control of Homs City due to its strategic location and its role as a transport hub connecting different parts of the country together. Control over Homs City allows Assad to partition Syria into de facto several enclaves, thus weakening his opponents. But, for now, the importance of this move comes to prevent rebels from encircling Damascus and besieging Assad there.
But it is not only Homs City that is being targeted, it is the nearby town of Talbisseh as well http://youtu.be/MkE9DOMVYc4 , http://youtu.be/iWQtuFXEvds And Rastan http://youtu.be/UDQ3pMgETNY
It’s the battlefront in Central Syria that is heating up again. And so…
In Hama, the battle for taking control of the town of Mourek continues http://youtu.be/XJeh6WAg5y0 , http://youtu.be/q2HjCFXLP4M Many civilians are caught in the crossfire http://youtu.be/T5Tn9EYV43o , http://youtu.be/4L6_aCjEu3g , http://youtu.be/UTv5QkiYXDk
Not that, there is any letdown in the fighting and its intensity elsewhere. Clashes and shelling continue to take place throughout Syria, from Daraa and Damascus in the South, to Idlib and Aleppo in the north, to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in the northeast.
Tal Rif’aat, Aleppo: fighter jets take part in the pounding http://youtu.be/RgG7sUSC8qE
Ain Terma, Damascus: fighter jets keep up their raids http://youtu.be/Jwa4UBFsdWA And Jisreen as well http://youtu.be/U9kiWQWjUj8 And Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/Ek1LCKcCJEw
Hraak, Daraa gets pounded by mortars http://youtu.be/0_GC8iXLU0k
Rebels and Loyalists clash in Deir Ezzor City http://youtu.be/DzsoKDRqgJs
The Assassination of Bashar Al-Assad: a short movie that pauses an interesting what-if scenario produced by a number of Syrian activists abroad http://youtu.be/qQr5OxRFdxg