Question: What’s the best-case scenario for Syria?
Shadi Hamid, Director of Research, Brookings Doha Center: Obama Administration supports a military intervention in Syria.
The best-case scenario is pretty bad. I lost any optimism I once had, to the point where it’s difficult for me to think of an alternative scenario where U.S. policy could have been more detrimental to the cause of the Syrian uprising and Syrian stability.
Going out on a limb, the best-case scenario is that the Obama administration reverses its positions and supports a military intervention in Syria. It’s unlikely, but there’s a set of unlikely events that could trigger such a course. If Assad uses chemical weapons against his own people in a way that leads to thousands of casualties, if we see a significant increase in loss of life in a very short time — like if an entire town is wiped out in a matter of weeks — that could shift international opinion and convince people that military intervention is the only way.
It took years to reach peace in Kosovo and Bosnia, so maybe we’re just not there yet and the number of civilian casualties, which is currently at 70,000, has to be closer to 150,000 or 200,000. In the long run, it would be optimistic to say that Syria would go through a transition, but at what costs and how many people have to die? I see a bright future after years of bloodshed because ultimately the rebels are going to win, ultimately there will be some part of Syria considered liberated and that is governed by a particular entity.
I do think the rebels are going to gain the upper hand, but you’ll still have a guerilla insurrection and war-lordism. These are all things Syria will have to go through.
Chris Phillips, l****ecturer in the International Relations of the Middle East, University of London****: External powers broker a deal between the opposition and the regime.
The best-case scenario, the result that we want, is the fighting to stop and some kind of transition to take place. The best case I could see happening is what we’ve been hoping for long time, which is that a deal is made between external powers, particularly Russia and Iran (though the latter is unlikely).
They would be able to place pressure on parts of the Assad regime to accept a transition without Assad, to accept the kind of thing Moaz Khatib was talking about recently. That calls for moderation between moderate leaders of the opposition and the non-Assad members of the regime. Somehow enough of an agreement is reached whereby the fighting can stop, and the Syrian state is then able to be held together by a transitional government of sorts.
This would require a large international commitment and possibly United Nations peace keepers. But if Russia and the United States come together, it would assume they’ve ended their logjam at UN and that the UN might be able to agree to provide blue helmets to oversee the transition and also to agree to provide financial support.
Now, the possibility of that actually happening is about 5 percent, so I’m not fantasizing that it will take place. Looking at the lay of the land, particularly the huge division within the opposition and the lack of division within the regime, there will most likely be some sort of civil war well into 2014.
David Butter, former MENA regional director, Economist Intelligence Unit and fellow at UK-based think tank Chatham House: Assad supporters stage a coup.
Looking at it involves wishful thinking. My best-case scenario would involve Assad, and the people around him in the police and intelligence services, being taken out of the way. So that would have to either happen as a result of some sort of bomb or attack by [opposition] Syrians, or an internal move from people on the inside who would recognize that with him and some of the better known chiefs out of the way, there would be a chance to have a negotiation with the national coalition and provide a way ahead.
At that point, you could bring in a lot of international players to concensus and help; there’d have to be an international conference on Syria and you’d have to have credible people from the regime come out of the woodwork. Then you’d get into the rather long and messy process of trying to put the place together again.
You’d probably see some massacres of Alawites, and you’d see clashes among many of the fighting groups, and you’d also have a really devastated economy which would need effective help from outside to start rebuilding. You’d also have UN peacekeeping forces of some sort deployed in the country during the post-war period.