Thursday, July 19, 2012

Syria: Collapsing From Within

From today’s reports, the government of Syria has gone into hiding. There are no police on the streets of Damascus. The military is reduced to guerrilla tactics. They fire a few shots and run. They don’t firmly control any territory anywhere.

The government was already collapsing from within before yesterday’s bombing assassination of two or more cabinet-level figures at a strategy meeting. That must have been an inside job, if the bomb was too small to produce any visible damage to the building. The government account of the event lacks credibility, so no one really knows who did it. Was it the president himself, a government assistant, or one of the guards? The answer scarcely matters to those still on the inside. The important thing is that no one can trust anyone anymore. The president was seen on television tonight, but one has to wonder how much of the government is still operating.

And even it if were, what could it do? Its main strategy at this point is the use of random gunfire to keep citizens off the streets. But this also means that people can’t work. When people can’t work, eventually they can’t eat either, so it is a strategy that can’t be maintained for more than a matter of days.

The government can’t expect any help from outside. Having spent a lifetime destabilizing its neighbors, it now lacks any routes to resupply itself. Perhaps its one remaining ally, Russia, might like to intervene, but there is no credible route in. People have been overstating the parallels between Syria and countries like Libya and Iraq, but there is one lesson from history that seems to apply equally well here: when a government goes into hiding, it is in its last days.