Even aside from the great advantage we (and the entire region) can enjoy from the fall of the Assad regime, which has become conduit for Iran's destructive foreign policy, we can also enjoy the sheer justice of Syria coming under sectarian pressure. Syria spent years stoking sectarian differences inside Iraq hoping to spark a full-blown civil war that would leave Iraq in chaos and vulnerable to jihadis and Sadrists who would pick up the pieces. Syria and their Iranian overlords failed in that project. Lots of Iraqis died in the process, of course. And the remnants of their campaign lingers on even as it has no hope of succeeding right now (but until they are wiped out, they could be the core to build a new insurgency--just ask the Taliban what they think about letting the Northern Alliance survive their civil war).
And now, Syria faces the demon it unleashed in Iraq:
The danger of sectarian strife is real, analysts say. It might even appeal to the authorities -- and some of their opponents -- as a way to break the deadlock. But it carries high risks for the Assad dynasty, as well as the opposition.
"This is a dangerous strategy for a regime trying to survive," said Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East Center at Oxford University. "You watch your army disintegrate if sectarianism becomes an issue." ...
"The security solution hasn't worked. The regime has decided to go for civil strife because it senses that it is losing. The protests are spilling over and spreading to the capital," said a Damascus-based Arab journalist who declined to be named.
Here's the really funny part:
Sectarian paranoia is evident, with Assad trusting only two elite units commanded by his brother Maher -- the 4th Armored Division and the Republican Guard -- as well as secret police and Alawite militia, known as Shabbiha, to deal with dissent.
"The coherence (of the security forces) is already in question. Sectarianism is already a problem, the loyalty of other units cannot be counted on," Rogan said.
Throw in advisers, at least, from Iran and Hezbollah on the Syrian government side. But the point is that the bulk of the army can't be trusted even now. Assad has two divisions (the Republican Guard is four brigades strong, including an artillery brigade) plus para-militaries and secret police goons. He's slowly losing while the rest of the largely Sunni army sits disarmed in their barracks. How long into a sectarian strategy by the government would those idle troops sit there before deserting or joining the protesters?
Boy Assad's father had it right, hit 'em hard and hit 'em fast, like he did in Hama. Shock them into passivity. But after the slow killing has failed, I don't think shock and awe would work. The protesters have been desensitized to government violence. I think the odds are that the people would be scared into open revolt rather than protests and that the army would splinter.
And now let's get into the real fun of watching what goes around comes around. What will all those Baath Party Sunni Arabs from Iraq do when the sectarian war comes? They are transnational in theory. Might they not side with the Sunni people against the Alawite Baathists and become the core of an educated and experienced government of Sunni Arabs? (For that matter, so too are any jihadis who got stuck in the pipeline inside Syria on their way from the wider Arab world to Iraq.)
It seemed like a good idea at the time to sow sectarian strife in Iraq and harvest the wealth of the Iraqi Sunni Arab refugees that Damascus welcomed into Syria in massive numbers.
Now those Sunni Arab Baathist refugees are a potential element of a power struggle within Syria. Back in 2006, we refused to run from Iraq despite the cries from our anti-war side to retreat. We surged and then we won. So instead of winning that first bet on the power of the Sunni-Shia divide, the Syrians may find they must go double or nothing just to survive.
So those who have hopes that protests might unseat Assad and bring real reform should give thanks to President George W. Bush and the soldiers and Marines on the ground in 2007 who broke the back of the Syrian-Iranian effort to spark a civil war inside Iraq. The blowback from that operation is burning inside Syria right now and may blow up yet.