“There’s no point in talks with the regime. We have nothing to talk about. We want Assad gone. That’s it,” says Ahmad, a Syrian activist living in hiding in north Lebanon.
Potentially more complex than Iraq
Although the Annan plan is still in the early stages of implementation, the pessimism that surrounds it has left policy planners in the US and Europe mulling alternative options should it fail in the weeks ahead. The administration of President Obama has limited its actions toward Syria to rhetoric and sanctions, evidently reluctant to be drawn back into the Middle East only months after ending its military involvement with Iraq and while in the process of drawing down in Afghanistan.
Certainly, Syria, a seething cauldron of sectarian and ethnic turmoil and an emerging new regional battleground, is potentially even more complex and dangerous than Iraq.
According to Randa Slim, a Washington-based scholar at the Middle East Institute and an adjunct research fellow at the New America Foundation specializing in Syrian affairs, the conflict in Syria has three components:
- an existential struggle between the Assad regime dominated by the minority Alawite sect and a lightly-armed, mainly Sunni opposition
- a regional power struggle between Iran, an ally of the Syrian regime, and Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni Arab power
- an international test of wills between the US and Russia and China, both of which back the Assad regime.