The Southwest Asia project hosted a roundtable discussion on Syria on December 19, 2005. David Ignatius of the Washington Post and Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma and Syriacomment.com spoke about Syrian domestic and foreign developments.
Landis’ presentation focused on Bashar Assad’s own perception of Syria’s situation and predicament. Landis argued that Bashar, by confronting the international community and the United States on Iraq and Lebanon, made a risky bet that proved, to some extent, a winning one: by losing Lebanon, Bashar managed to hold, and ultimately win, Syria. Bashar inherited from his father a struggle over Lebanon and Syria that opposed two camps: his, and a Syrian-Lebanese axis grouping Rafik Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Abdel Halim Khaddam, Hikmat Shehabi, and Ghazi Kanaan.
In Landis’ view, Bashar is now firmly in power. The Syrian people have regrouped around its leadership, which has skillfully used nationalistic feelings as a way to consolidate domestic authority. The opposition forces, despite all their efforts, remain disorganized and are not yet a credible alternative to the regime.
Ignatius offered ideas on how Lebanon can prevent further Syrian interference in its affairs. He argued that the United States and the international community presently have few options to deal with Syria. Given Bashar’s grip on power and the lack of alternatives to his rule, containing Syria and engaging more forcefully its civil society seem to be the only possible approach for the international community.