Top U.S. officials are acknowledging that the violent anti-government revolt in Syria may not represent a majority of the Syrian people and that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad may survive the rebellion.
The admission is significant because U.S. officials have for months referred to the unrest as a popular uprising and publicly called for the end of Assad’s rule, which they claimed was imminent anyhow. President Obama said on Tuesday, “ultimately, this dictator will fall.”
The Obama administration has made it a matter of policy to aid the Syrian opposition in their quest to overthrow Assad. But that policy will be much more difficult to justify if even U.S. policymakers admit that the opposition fighters represent a small minority of Syrians in a violent civil war.
Despite army defections to the so-called Free Syrian Army and some other bureaucratic defections from Assad’s rule, U.S. officials have anonymously admitted, Assad’s rule remains largely intact. Plus, with continuing military and economic aid from allies like Russia and Iran, the regime appears firmly entrenched, contrary to statements from the Obama administration in recent weeks.
The Obama administration thus far has been reluctant to commit to an actual military campaign against the Assad government, but recent changes in policy began to make it seem like such a campaign was fast approaching. Pushing for regime change in Syria – that is, gaining another strategic foothold in the region and knocking out one of Iran’s main allies – is much harder for them to justify if it can’t be branded as being aligned with the popular will or as some humanitarian mission.