Friday, March 30, 2012

An Alawite Homeland?

The Syrian uprising is a battle between too-small loyal forces and people upset with Assad drawn from the majority Sunni Arab community. Yes, small amounts of rebel forces (and some terrorists joining in) fight the Assad troops, but the center of gravity is the will of the people to endure the killings and arrests by the loyal security forces. Strategypage discusses the situation:

The government still faces its most implacable foe in the form of cell phone videos that constantly contradict assertions that troops and police are not attacking civilians. The videos show that the artillery and ground assaults continue. But there are too many towns and villages in rebellion, and too few loyal troops to go after them all and shut down opposition completely. The government strategy remains one of continuing to attack hostile civilians in the hope that the civilians will give up resisting before the government runs out of cash and armed loyalists.

This basic situation has been going on for over a year, now, and neither side has broken.

I wondered if at some point the Assad regime would decide that it can't risk their forces breaking first and instead focus on defending a core Syria where the Alawites and their allies (mostly Christian and Druze) live.

So is this news an indication that Assad is thinking more actively about creating a core Syria with fewer Sunnis in that region once the fighting stops?

Sunni Muslims who have fled Syria described a government crackdown that is more pervasive and more sectarian than previously understood, with civilians affiliated with President Bashar al-Assad’s minority religious sect shooting at their onetime neighbors as the military presses what many Sunnis see as a campaign to force them to flee their homes and villages in some sections of the country.

It clearly isn't a full-blown ethnic cleansing. But it might be. How confident are Assad and his allies that they can continue to rule all of Syria with the tools they have? At some point, Assad might decide that it is better to rule a smaller Alawite Syria than to lose their necks and their country by trying to hold it all.

And if Assad does that, how do we react to a Syria that could fragment into an Alawite core in the west stretching from the Turkish border down to the Jordanian border (with uncertain amounts of economically important areas outside of that core that Assad thinks he must and can control), a Kurdish are in the northeast, and a vast but poor Sunni Arab region between them?

I'd expect to see Assad move any WMD and related assets located outside of areas he wants to hold into areas of Syria in the west if he decides on such a survival strategy.

It seems to me that the motivation of protecting Sunni Arabs from being attacked is eliminated if Assad essentially pulls out of the Sunni Arab areas (although while Assad more intensively ethnically cleanses the areas he want to hold he may have to withstand stronger motivation to intervene).

The question of whether a rump Assad regime allied with Iran is as dangerous to us as Syria is now may be irrelevant if the humanitarian reason to topple Assad goes away.