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Brookings: Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change

March 2012


Syria is trapped on a crumbling precipice, and however it might fall will entail significant risks for the United States and for the Syrian people, says this memo written by experts on Middle East.

The brutal regime of Bashar al-Asad is employing its loyal military forces and sectarian thugs to crush the opposition and reassert its tyranny. Even if Bashar fails, Syria may not be out of the woods: an increasingly likely alternative to the current regime is a bloody civil war similar to what we saw in Lebanon, Bosnia, Congo, and most recently in Iraq. The horrors of such a war might even exceed the brutal reassertion of Asad's control, and would cause spillover into Syria's neighbors—Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel—that could be disastrous for them and for American interests in the Middle East.

But the unrest in Syria, which is now entering its second year, also offers some important opportunities, ones that would come from the fall of the regime of Bashar al-Asad, whose family has ruled the country with an iron grip for over forty years. Syria is Iran's oldest and most important ally in the Arab world, and the Iranian regime has doubled down on Asad, providing him with financial aid and military support to shore up his regime. Asad's departure would deal a significant blow to Tehran, further isolating it at a time when it has few friends in the region or the world. In addition, Damascus is steadfast in its hostility toward Israel, and Asad's regime is also a longtime supporter of terrorist groups like Hizballah and Hamas, and has at times aided al-Qa'ida terrorists and former regime elements in Iraq. The regime's collapse, therefore, could have significant benefits for the United States and its allies in the region.

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