The Syrian rebels accomplished a strategic success in shifting the balance of the battle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime through a well-crafted military plan based on guerrilla warfare tactics. The United States, worried by the rebels’ ability to carry out these unexpectedly quick and sudden maneuvers, went to the point of threatening direct military intervention. Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, stated on December 3rd, that “we are certainly planning to take action if that [using chemical weapons] eventuality were to occur.” The US and Western powers in general are trying to preserve their prior influence in Syria, which guarantees their involvement to steer the revolution towards an outcome that suits their interests. The Assad regime is nearing total collapse and there are 4 possible outcomes for this conflict.
There are many different ideologies present within the rebels from the extreme secular liberals demanding a Western style democracy to religious Islamists demanding an Islamic state. There are many rebel factions in between these two polar ends of the ideological spectrum. The conservative Syrian society’s natural position would be to demand a role for Islam in a post-Assad regime. The Arab Spring has shown that there is a general awakening within the Muslim world, with the majority demanding Islam to play a greater role in politics. A study conducted by the PEW Research Center in July 2012 said: “Many across the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed want Islam to have a major influence in politics.” This trend has given Islamists a greater leverage which brought them to power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Similarly, in Syria Islamists, such as the Salafi movements and Hizb-ut-Tahrir, are calling for the establishment of an Islamic State, the first possible outcome. Many FSA brigades showed their support of this goal in their announcement, in Aleppo, while criticizing the new secular Syrian coalition.
The second possible outcome is a Western style democracy rallied for by the secular factions and the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the beginning of the uprising, the US has been trying to influence the rebels to establish a consensus on such a state through the different councils in exile that it supported and helped establish. The Erdogan government in Turkey has been key in executing this US plan. The continuous US denial of lethal support to the rebels points at the failure of this plan until now. This clearly shows that the majority of the FSA factions are not sold on the idea of a secular state. In another attempt at unifying the rebels under a single secular leadership, another council was announced in Antalya, Turkey, last Friday. The US has been very frank that their most favorable outcome for Syria is a political transition to a secular Western-style democratic state, therefore the US will continue to prop up any effort that leads to such outcome.
Since its ideal outcome hasn’t materialized and many rebels are calling for an Islamic State, the US is left with the two other outcomes. The third possible outcome is a direct military intervention as has been threatened by Secretary of State Clinton. The US would probably use the NATO for ground invasion, specially the Turkish army, but could utilize a multi-national UN peacekeeping force instead. Lakhdar al-Ibrahimi, UN special envoy to Syria, called for such a UN force to stabilize Syria, a plan that was accepted days after by the new Syrian coalition’s spokesman Walid al-Bunni. The aim of the Western powers through such an invasion would be to eliminate the FSA factions that do not adhere to a secular democratic state, such as Jabhat an-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. The problem with this plan is that the US will pit itself against the Syrian population that are angry at Western complacency and feels grateful for factions that are protecting them from al-Assad. The New York Times, reported that “on Friday, demonstrators in several Syrian cities raised banners with slogans like, ‘No to American intervention, for we are all Jabhat an-Nusra’.”
The US might find that military intervention is financially and militarily costly in addition to that it would push the Syrian society even further towards Jabhat an-Nusra and other Islamists. It, then, would resort to the last possible outcome of the Syrian revolution which is the most bloody of them all; an Afghan-style inter-fighting between the different rebel groups. The US would support militarily the secular FSA factions and supply them with funding and weapons and let a civil war rage between those who spent two years on the same side trying to topple the Assad regime. The US has been building ties with those rebels for a while through a training camp in Southern Turkey. One rebel within the secular FSA factions have stated explicitly, “after the fall of Bashar there will be so many battles between these groups.”
With the Syrian revolution almost reaching its main goal, the demise of the Assad regime, the rebels have to set a plan for the future. Syria, a very strategic country, is very important to the Western powers who have had influence over it since it became a modern state. If their goal of secular state is not achieved, they are ready to employ different maneuvers to prevent an independent Syria, which could come in the form of a bloody military intervention or a long-term civil war. The only way for the Syrian people to deflect such a bleak outcome, gain their own political will and secure their independence is through reaching a consensus with the different rebel factions.