Are there only bad choices in Syria?

Throughout the crisis, the regime has proven more sectarian, unaccountable and vicious than ever. Obsessed with the challenge posed by peaceful protests, its mukhabarat security services — almost none of whose members have been put on trial as promised — have hunted non-violent progressive activists, often with more zeal than shown toward criminal gangs and armed groups. The mukhabarat have recruited thugs and criminals — the more extreme, venal and subservient elements of society — into an army of proxies known across the country as shabbiha. It has tried to intimidate protesters through gruesome tactics. …Assad has gradually shed all pretense of being a national leader, speaking instead as the head of one camp determined to vanquish the other.

For its part, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group that is composed mostly of exiles, has failed to offer an inspiring alternative since it was formed in September 2011. Its mainly unknown and inexperienced members have done little to counteract the regime’s propaganda. Unable to agree on any positive political platform, the SNC has refused any negotiation with the regime and called for “international intervention” that is conveniently left undefined, leaving to their anxieties the many Syrians who simultaneously loathe the regime, dread foreign interference and panic at the idea of a high-risk transition. It has estranged, among others, Kurdish factions, who fear a Turkish agenda, and petrified Syrians distrustful of Qatari and Saudi influence. It has most notably failed to reach out to the ‘Alawis, many of whom are poor and disgruntled but afraid to change sides lest they suffer a backlash due to their association with the security forces and army units responsible for much of the violence. By abandoning all these people to their dark forebodings, the SNC’s members have missed an opportunity to hasten the decline of the regime and ward off civil strife in the event of Bashar’s fall. On the international level, the SNC has displayed political naïveté by putting all its energy into lobbying for support from Turkey, the Gulf monarchies and the West, all of whom are already sympathetic, while ignoring and alienating the regime’s allies.

An intriguing article by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke, who have spent much time in Syria.

The rest of the article does not conform to stereotype and finish with a new hope and path to peace. It presents less terrible options, at best.

Frank and bleak and quite worth reading.