Thursday, April 28, 2011

It Would Be Hard for Assad to Lose

It is not easy to overthrow a dictator, especially one who is willing to do anything and everything to stay in power. Even in the internet age, the creation of a shadowy National Initiative for Change in Syria, will have little effect. If the regime is willing to shoot demonstrators, the price of demonstrations will eventually prove to be too high, and the demonstrations will stop.

Here are the ingredients for the overthrow of a totalitarian regime:

1. The regime is morally constrained and will not employ extreme force.
2. There is a well organized group of dedicated revolutionaries who are prepared to use all means necessary to gain power.
3. There is strong support from outside either in the form of overt or covert military and propaganda aid.

Two examples of success would be the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

In the Russian case, Nicolas II, was morally constrained to the extreme (He was devastated to learn that his people did not love him and abdicated). The Bolsheviks and their Social Revolutionary and Menshevik allies had been professional underground conspirators for a decade or more, and, among them, the Bolsheviks were prepared to use any means necessary, and the German military was prepared to lend a hand.

In the Iranian case, the Shah was constrained by his own conscience and by U.S. pressure. In the end, he was not willing to use the force necessary. His Islamic-fundamentalist opponents were well organized and had coalesced around a leader in exile. The world community considered the Shah a pariah. No country was willing to help him. After a show of resistance, the Shah resigned and left Iran for an uneasy exile.

None of these conditions for successful overthrow apply to Syria’s Assad regime. We have ample evidence that it is prepared to do anything and everything to stay in power and cares little about what the Western world thinks. After decades of dictatorial control, there is no organized opposition left, and the opposition that exists does not know how to use extreme force even if they could. There is little outside pressure. As a UN member in good standing among its peers, attempts by Western powers to gain a condemnation of Syria have failed and will continue to fail.

Even the New York Times (Embattled Arab Leaders Decide It’s Better to Fight Than Quit, April 28) has discovered that that those dictators who are prepared to use extreme force are the ones who survive. Those who followed the NYT’s advice to engage in meaningful reform are gone or will shortly be gone.


  1. Paul Gregory has great insight and I enjoy his blog.

  2. One issue for Egypt is the role of the army, which has held power behind the scenes since 1952 and has amassed a large ownership stake in the economy. If the army maintains its independence of civilian rule, then the best democracy that Egypt can hope for will be on lines similar to Pakistan.