Syria After the Strike: Three Scenarios

September 10, 2013

Russia’s media is highly impacted by government control. Many news organizations have direct or indirect ties to the Russian government, and yet many more have ties to a web of Russian power brokers. Even when a newspaper is independent, the power of Russia’s power structure can be felt in the press. Since 2001, four journalists working for Novaya Gazeta have been killed.

However, the Russian media is a complex system, and it would be a mistake to dismiss it as pure propaganda. In fact, in comparison with similar systems, the influence of the “government line” is often very subtle.

Take this example, published last week in Interfax. It is a summary of a blog post written by an American Academic, Harvard Professor Steven Strauss. In several key areas, Strauss’s words are either deliberately or accidentally twisted or mistranslated. But in all of those circumstances where the “twisting” is obvious, the changes seem to make things look worse for the American case for intervention in Syria.

For instance, Strauss says:

“President Obama is proposing a pragmatic middle road between these extremes of “do nothing” and “regime change” — a ‘lesson’ for Syria’s pariah regime (and other despots who might be watching) in language criminals of their sort will understand.”

But Interfax writes:

“Obama chose the ‘golden mean’ [a ‘middle ground’] between the two extremes – non-intervention and the usual humanitarian intervention. The Syrian people will face further torment.”

Beyond the obvious missing language that paints a poor picture of the Assad regime, Interfax then goes on to equate humanitarian intervention with regime change.

Then there is an even worse “error” on Interfax’s part. Strauss makes it clear that the Assad regime might attack Israel to provoke an Arab-national backlash. But Interfax infers that Assad would only be responding to an attack that has already happened. Strauss writes:

“Perhaps Assad will seek the mantle of Arab nationalism by retaliating with an attack against Israel (hoping to end the civil war by becoming the leader of a regional war).”

Interfax writes:

“Assad tries to put an end to the civil war, and to become the leader of a regional war. He appeals to Arab nationalism in response to attacks by Israel.”

Interfax here has sampled a single American academic to add an American voice to the debate over Syria. What’s interesting is that they then appear to manipulate Strauss’s argument to ensure that the Russian readers think Strauss is leaning closer to Russia’s official position than Strauss initially intended.

It’s also worth noting that Russian public opinion appears to be at odds with the official Kremlin line on the Syrian crisis. Few Russians actually support Assad. – Ed.

The U.S. has already decided to attack Syria, the question is when it will happen and what the outcome could be. Steven Strauss of Harvard has developed three scenarios after the U.S. attack, each one worse than the other.

Members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee approved the use of force against Syria. The operation will last 60 days and could be extended for another month. However, the final approval of the whole Congress has not yet been received, although Barack Obama is confident that this will happen soon.

In anticipation of these events the world public opinion is divided into two opposing camps. On one side are those who believe that the U.S. should not initiate military actions, but diplomacy and conferences can bring peace to Syria.

At the other end is Senator McCain and many others, who believe that only the use of force by the USA and regime change will enable an end to the conflict. To be sure, the Iraqi experience suggests that this may not happen.

The limited strike from the air without landing Marines proposed by Obama is the best out of the worst choices, Steven Strauss of Harvard University is certain. Obama chose the “golden mean” (a “middle ground”) between the two extremes – non-intervention and the usual humanitarian intervention. No matter what will happen after the strike, the Syrian people can expect only torment and misery, says Strauss. In his EconoMonitor blog he presented three scenarios for Syria after the U.S. attack.

First scenario: U.S. strike will calm Assad and precipitate talks


  • The Assad regime will see that the illegal acts against its own people will have painful consequences, such as pinpoint strikes against the most important government army targets.
  • The Syrian leadership will be more careful in their actions and more open to a negotiated settlement of the problems.
  • Although the Syrian government and its allies have threatened an escalation of the conflict after the intervention of the United States, the involvement of Americans in a major war is unlikely to play into their hands.
  • Continuous air war with the United States would almost certainly lead to the overthrow of the Assad regime.
  • Iran seems to have realized that America’s actions are punitive and are not focused on regime change, and will not seek any escalation of hostilities.


Second scenario: confusion, mistakes and all-out war


  • A brief targeted intervention turned into a protracted confrontation.
  • Assad tries to put an end to the civil war, and to become the leader of a regional war. He appeals to Arab nationalism in response to attacks by Israel.
  • U.S. intervention leads to horrendous casualties among the civilian population. This leads to a chain of negative reactions to U.S. actions in the region.
  • Iran believes that the Americans are stuck in Syrian quicksand and distracted from Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
  • Assad, in turn, thinks that the U.S. is bluffing and does nothing.
  • Military action can never be as accurate and thought out as shown in the movies, the expert reminds us. Mistakes always happen, and the proposed short-term intervention can go wrong.
  • The system of management and decision-making can be damaged, and the U.S. does not fully understand how the regime of Bashar al-Assad operates.


The third scenario: the Assad regime collapses


  • The Assad regime collapses instantly after a U.S. Marine landing assault.
  • The rebel forces come to power: Syria either becomes a failed state, or breaks up into autonomous regions.
  • The theory of attack, which is presented as punitive, but not “threatening the regime”, in reality can be very fragile.
  • After even a limited U.S. attack rebel forces or even the president’s close associates can try to take advantage of the chaos and decide to get rid of Assad.
  • This scenario should not be interpreted as a victory.
  • No one can say with certainty what will happen after Assad’s departure, but there are reasons to believe that a regime change will lead to a deterioration of living standards in the country.
  • In the chaos of the crumbling regime, Syria’s chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists..