The problem with Annan’s plan was that it should have started with this final point, recognizing that no real hope for a political transition exists short of getting Assad to leave. As such, stepping up pressure on both China and Russia to convince them to relinquish support for the Syrian dictator is imperative.
Continued high-level defections, such as that of Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab this week, may persuade Moscow and Beijing that Assad’s days in power are numbered. But more effort should be made at convincing both capitals that by assisting with a transition, they have an opportunity to help shape “the day after.”
More sanctions may be too little too late to compel the dictator to go, but losing all international support – other than Iran – could have a stronger impact on Assad’s decision-making process. This may require offering Assad exile and immunity. So be it.
However, focusing too narrowly on Assad’s departure may lead the international community to miss the bigger picture and the importance of encouraging a political transition.
Syria is stuck in an all-out struggle between two sides that still see the outcome as a zero-sum game. As such, the chances for the post-Assad period to see a gradual end to the hostilities seem grim. Simply put, if not properly managed, the exit of Assad could lead his entourage to fight even harder, leading to more, not less, violence.