We'll miss Bashar Assad when he's gone




The institutions of Syria will collapse along with Bashar Assad's regime. (Joe Fournier illustration / August 11, 2012)
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We'll miss Bashar Assad when he's gone

This miserable autocrat who kills his own people and bombs his own cities and has done so since March 2011 will fall. When? Who knows? Not today. Not tomorrow. But his fall will come. Then we will wish Bashar Assad were back.

We will wish he were back because the institutions of Syria, largely built by Hafez Assad, Bashar's father, will collapse along with the Assad regime.

Syria will become an anarchist's paradise. With no central state, the militias now fighting the regime will fight each other, seeking to control territory, expand their bases and control the center.

The most likely winners will be the Islamists. There are varieties of Islam competing with various secularist factions in Syria for control, but primarily the Salafists and the jihadists. The Salafists are the Muslims of the Saudi variety — an ascetic and strict interpretation of Islam with all the restrictions on human freedom we know from Saudi Arabia. The jihadists add to that war to spread the faith. Both carry powerful anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israel messages. Neither seems to have any understanding of economic development. (The Saudis have only recently come to realize that oil won't really get them prosperity and employment and there's not even much oil in Syria.) Forget women's rights, of course.

But whatever the prognosis, the news from Syria is bad and chaos looms.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the rebels in Aleppo are deeply divided between the various rebel militias that have formed an umbrella Tawheed Brigade and the army defectors who have formed their own Aleppo Military Council.

Stars and Stripes and The Wall Street Journal report that the rebels have finally come to control Syrian territory, a broad strip of land along the border with Turkey, west and north of Aleppo. In that strip of land, they control two border-crossing points, which means they can get supplies. A political council of 30 members "runs" the territory and has instituted "Islamic justice," with Muslim clerics serving as judges.

Other reports talk of Syrian Kurdish militias gaining control over pieces of territory in Syrian Kurdistan. The Syrian Kurds then raised the flag of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party), their sister organization in Turkey, panicking the Turks and leading them to send heavy troop reinforcements to the Turkish border with Syrian Kurdistan.

The New York Times reports that a crime wave has swept Syria as police have abandoned their posts and local Syrian security forces have been drawn away from the neighborhoods into the larger conflict.

Remember Iraq. They key to its catastrophic fate following the U.S. invasion was the collapse of the Iraqi state — its bureaucracies and its army, which L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, aka the boss of Iraq, decided to shut down.

Iraq's nightmare lasted from 2003 (and the U.S. invasion) through 2007 (and PresidentGeorge W. Bush's surge) into at least 2008. A secret U.S. government tally reported 100,000 civilian deaths as of 2010. Some 55,000 insurgents were killed, as were more than 10,000 Iraqi police and soldiers. (U.S. militarydeaths in Iraq are reported at 4,487 and wounded at 32,223.) More than 2.2 million Iraqis were displaced inside Iraq while another 2 million-plus fled to Jordan or Syria. More than 40 percent of Iraqi professionals are estimated to have left their country.

Will Syria repeat Iraq's fate? The key will be what happens to Syrian state institutions after Assad's fall. If the bureaucracies remain intact, as they have in Egypt, they could bring some stability and order. But more likely they will collapse, as they did in Iraq.

Syria will be a free-for-all. Outside states will support their favorite leaders. There will be no U.S. troops to help restore order. In the end, the Salafists or jihadists will win power.

Then we will wish that Bashar Assad were back
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Marvin Zonis is professor emeritus at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

Sunday, August 12th 2012
By Marvin Zonis
           


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