Challenges lie ahead for Syrian National Coalition



Hassan Barari

Published — Friday 14 December 2012

Last update 13 December 2012 11:34 pm

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Eventually, the United States recognized the exiled Syrian National Coalition — formed a few weeks ago in Qatar — as the successor to Bashar Assad’s regime. This coalition is seen as the umbrella organization for Syrian opposition groups. By doing so, the United States has committed itself to a regime change in Syria.
Without doubt, the new position taken by the United States and echoed by Britain, France, and influential players in the Middle East and the Gulf has catapulted the new umbrella group into prominence. And yet, the rebel demand for more and better armaments has not yet been given. In fact, the hesitancy on the part of Washington to provide the opposition with effective weapons has given Assad’s troops the chance to survive until today. To date, the American administration fear that weapons could end up in the hands of the most radical elements of the opposition.
American experts are divided over the United States approach toward the unfolding military and political situation in Syria. Max Boot, an American author, for instance, makes the case that the current policy is not working. Calling on Assad to step down without placing a price tag on his repressive policies is hardly a policy. This policy has neither stopped the war — which continues to rage on — nor convinced Assad to step down. Max Boot argues that “it is high time for the United States to get off the sidelines as allies such as Turkey and Israel, Britain and France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been urging it to do.” Grounding Assad’s potent weapon entails the reinforcement of no-fly zone. It is then when the opposition group can hold on to liberated territory to be the springboard for defeating Assad’s forces.
On the other hand, Brian Fishman from the New American Foundation voices his doubts over the wisdom of American military intervention in Syria. To him, a military intervention can hardly produce a stable post-Assad Syria. An American military intervention can tip the scale decisively against Assad’s forces but this will not lead to a stable new government in Damascus. Therefore, he recommends arming only cooperative rebel groups, putting more diplomatic pressure on the regime, and get ready for some military engagement to destroy or secure Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
That said, putting an end to the regime in Syria will trigger a new dynamic within Syria and within the region as well. This is where the key challenge lies. Rebuilding the state of Syria should be at the heart of any planning for getting rid of this regime. Those who think that the battle over Syria finishes with the demise of Assad seem not able to learn from other experiences in the region. It may take years after Assad to see a stable and functioning state. As some would say, it would be a tough battle to win peace and stability in Syria.
While it is true that the Syrian National Coalition has succeeded in getting the international blessing, it is not yet clear how these groups — who have been far away from the front line — are going to gain credibility at home. Unlike the Libyan National Transitional Council — which was formed before the collapse of Qaddafi’s regime — the coalition’s hodge-podge combination of technocrats has yet to succeed in announcing provisional government. The focus should be on how Syria is going to be run and governed once Assad departs the country. Therefore, the opposition leaders have to work fast lest the regime falls faster than expected thus leading to a kind of power vacuum that could create an environment conducive to civil war.
If anything, picking up the reins once Assad leaves will be the most important challenge. But the ability of the coalition leaders to gain the support of people within Syria depends on how they do their job in the weeks to come. It is not enough to gain the support and legitimacy of the region and the world. The most important thing is to take into account the position and perception of those who have been burned by the 21-month of continuous bloody crackdown.

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