[Marxism] On Defections and Developments in Syria: PBS NewsHour Interview with Bassam Haddad and David Lesch

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 7 07:58:14 MDT 2012


On Defections and Developments in Syria: PBS NewsHour Interview with 
Bassam Haddad and David Lesch

The following interview was conducted by Margert Warner on PBS's 
NewsHour. It aired live on Monday 6 August 2012, and featured Jadaliyya 
Co-Editor Bassam Haddad and Professor David Lesch. The interview 
primarily discussed the wave of recent defections and their significance 
(or lack thereof) in the ongoing struggle between the Syrian regime and 
various opposition forces. An interview transcript is available below 
the video.


Margaret Warner: And for more on all of this, I'm joined by two scholars 
with new books on Syria.

  Bassam Haddad directs the Middle East Studies Department at George 
Mason University. His new book is "Business Networks in Syria."

And David Lesch is a professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, 
Tex. He interviewed Bashar al-Assad several times between 2004 and 2009. 
His new book is "Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad."

Welcome to you both.

David Lesch, beginning with you, what significance do you see in these 
latest defections, coming on top of earlier ones?

David Lesch: Well, they are serious blows to the regime, as you said, 
coming on top of earlier defections, as well as the impression that the 
rebels on the ground are making military inroads against the regime.

However, you know, the office of the prime minister is not a very 
powerful position in Syria under Bashar al-Assad. It is mostly an 
administrative post. It's been a disposable one since the beginning of 
the uprising. But perception is most important here. And, as we all 
know, perception is oftentimes more important than reality.

And the perception is that the regime is on the defensive, that it could 
be crumbling with these increasing defections. And if many of the 
Syrians who are viewing this also see it as crumbling, especially those 
sitting on the fence, then you could have a cascade of defections, which 
will undermine the foundation of the regime.

Margaret Warner: Bassam Haddad, what would you add to that, the 
significance, for instance, that he was Sunni?

Bassam Haddad: Well, that is, at this point, not as significant.

The main point about the defection of the prime minister is that the 
office of the prime minister, as my colleague said, has for decades been 
an administrative office. And it wasn't connected and is not connected 
to any serious threads of power.

So that, in and of itself, makes it less relevant than many people might 
assume. The second point is that the conflict itself right now has 
descended into a purely military conflict, which means that such 
defections will in actuality have very little effect on the manner in 
which the conflict proceeds.

But it will actually open the door for more defections that many people 
actually have contemplated for some time but now will probably actually 
carry out.

Margaret Warner: David Lesch, you have been close to this circle, or you 
had some entree because of your interviews with the president. Who is in 
this inner circle, the one with -- the one -- the circle that really has 
power? And is it mostly Alawite, the sect that -- the Shiite sort of 
splinter sect that Assad is from?

David Lesch:It is. It is mostly Alawite. There are still some Sunnis who 
are supporting the regime, particularly in the business community.

But in the inner circle -- I mean, ever since the regime chose a 
security solution to this from -- from the beginning of the uprising, 
the military security apparatus ascended in power even more so than it 
already had been, including Bashar's brother Maher al-Assad and many of 
the other particularly Alawite generals in the military security apparatus.

So, it is a very opaque ruling structure that has been difficult to 
penetrate even by people on the scene for many, many years. But I think 
since the crisis began, it's getting tighter and tighter and tighter, 
smaller and much more Alawite, with these Sunni defections.

Margaret Warner: And, so, Mr. Haddad, do you think that the president 
can control the country with a ruling circle that is becoming primary, 
almost dominantly Alawite, which is -- they are only 10 percent of the 

Bassam Haddad: The picture is not that stark.

It's also important to recognize that still at the top levels in the 
military and security apparatus, there are still some Sunnis. And in 
society, there are still large pockets, if not very large pockets, of 
support, not necessarily for the Assad regime, but for a prevention of a 
fall into the abyss.

What a lot of the reporting I think has been ignoring, especially from 
the West, is that Syria is falling apart not just as a regime, but as a 
country. And that is actually the biggest tragedy that I think is being 
shoved aside, in favor of focusing on cliche-ish things such as 
dictatorship and democracy in a situation where even if the Assad regime 
falls we are looking at a very, very tough process of reconstructing the 

And certain parties benefit, and these are the parties we should 
actually look at, including conservative Arab states, some European 
states, and, of course, the United States.

Margaret Warner: Let me go back to David Lesch.

Based on your time with Assad, he -- explain to us as best you can his 
psychology at this point. Are you surprised that he is -- seems clearly 
not interested in any kind of deal, any kind of compromise, any kind of 

David Lesch:No, because, over the years, I think he bought into the 
authoritarian structure of power in Syria, as happens frequently in 
authoritarian regimes across the world, not just in Syria.

And they have a bit of a different alternative reality that has been 
constructed around them. And thus they really do believe that they are 
protecting the country. That is the mandate for the Assads, both father 
and son, for ruling Syria, is to provide security and stability.

And I think they really believe they are still trying to do that, 
perhaps without realizing totally that their security solution is 
actually causing more instability in the long-term.

But Syria has been under threat from the outside over the decades. So it 
doesn't take much to convince many Syrians that there are pernicious 
forces from the outside working with unwitting forces on the inside 
against the regime.

Margaret Warner: Do you agree with -- there have been quite a few 
analysts in the U.S. government who just study Assad that he seems, at 
least in his pronouncements, increasingly disconnected from reality.

Would you go that far?

David Lesch:No, because he has a very different reality.

You know, the Syrians have a totally different conceptual paradigm of 
the major threat based on their own historical experience, which is 
different from ours. So, to them, it's very real. To them, it's very true.

And as Bassam Haddad said, there is a very different picture being 
painted by the Western press that is totally divorced from how they see 
reality. And which is the truth is very hard to discern, but it's 
probably somewhere in the middle.

Margaret Warner: Bassam Haddad, briefly, before we go, the U.S. 
government continues to call on other members of the regime to defect. 
Those who are closest to him, do they have much incentive to defect, 
especially members of his Alawite sect?

Bassam Haddad: There's little incentive for people close to the regime 
right now to defect, especially members of Alawite sects.

The United States, in my view...

Margaret Warner: Because?

Bassam Haddad: Because it's -- the ship will either sink or swim all 
together, and the Alawite community is within that ship, even if they 
resent the manner in which the regime dealt with the uprising.

Margaret Warner: Is that because they feel that essentially if this 
regime goes down, they are going down at this point, as Alawites?

Bassam Haddad: It's not -- that is a good question. It's not just their 

There is a real fear right now, an objective fear that the Alawite 
community and other minority groups will actually have to -- will 
actually pay the price for just being such on -- on their I.D., in terms 
of how they are identified.

And, unfortunately, the United States has done a lot more to provoke, 
rather than actually push the opposition to do things such as engage in 
dialogue in order to prevent a calamity. And that is actually where the 
story should go, because this is bound to happen unless there is this 
kind of interference that actually calls for dialogue, which Turkey, the 
Arab states and the United States have prevented the opposition from doing.

Margaret Warner: All right.

Bassam Haddad, thank you so much.

And David Lesch at Trinity, thanks so much.

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