However well the Free Syrian Army may be doing against Assad’s heavily-armed security forces, the politicians, who are supposed to speak for the rebels, are failing so badly that they are endangering the whole revolution.
Many Syrians not involved in the revolt have reasons to hate and fear the Assad regime, with its security apparatus and its bands of armed thugs. They have stayed on the fence, either through fear of the consequences of joining the rebellion, or perhaps more mundanely, because they are not made of the stuff of heroes.
Their most earnest desire is for peace and security. With their country now in a state of civil war, those ambitions seem far away. Maybe as recently as six months ago, uncommitted Syrians hoped either for a negotiated settlement or a rapid military victory for the Free Syrian Army. The negotiations failed, not simply through the intransigence of Assad and his Russian and Chinese supporters, but because the rebel leadership proved itself incapable of producing a united front with which Assad could be obliged to deal, and behind which the international community could throw its full weight.
The Arab League has made superhuman efforts to sort out the political mess and get the rival political groups to work together. The latest attempt finished Wednesday in Cairo, with further failure. The only single issue on which 200 delegates meeting over two days could agree was that Bashar Assad and his ruthless regime should go. So bitter are the divisions among different opposition representatives, that there were even fist fights on the conference floor where the talks were held.
Assad has always claimed that he is prepared to negotiate, if only there were someone to negotiate with. It is impossible to deny that the continuing political disunity among the opposition political leadership, makes the dictator’s point all too clearly.
However, there is a more insidious consequence to the absurd bickering and narrow party interests among the rebellion’s leadership.
Ordinary Syrians, however much they long for the end of the Assad dictatorship, will quite rightly be asking themselves what will really come after the regime falls? If at this crucial stage of the struggle the leaders of rival interest groups cannot find a coherent common cause, then what will the governance of the country be like when rebel troops finally march into Damascus? Is Syria doomed to some sort of multiple partition, ruled by warlords who refuse to disband the units they command, in what is now characterized inaccurately as a single Free Syrian Army?
On the basis of the farcical and lackluster performance of the opposition leadership thus far, the evidence has to be that such a frightening scenario is very possible, if not indeed almost certain. With such an analysis, who could blame the man in the street who, for the sake of his family, decides to stick with the Assad regime, on the basis that it is better the devil you know?