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