Now that the United States, France and other Western powers have endorsed the Arab League’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down -- even if that formulation is ultimately edited out of the final draft of the resolution pending before the U.N. Security Council -- it is time to start making plans for the various contingencies that may erupt on "the day after."
Most Western policymakers, at least in their public rhetoric, continue to cling to an optimistic scenario in which a broad-based, inclusive opposition takes power in Damascus after an initial transition from Assad’s rule. Reassured of their role in the new Syria, the country’s Alawite and Christian populations, two of the communities that the current regime depends on for bedrock support, would have an incentive to participate peacefully in the post-Assad order. Of course, such a scenario appeals to U.S. and Western publics, weary from a decade of stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is simply not politically feasible for Western leaders to vigorously champion efforts to force Assad to step down if there is an expectation that Western forces be needed to guarantee the transition.
But the window of opportunity for this optimistic scenario is closing rapidly, if it ever existed at all. CNN's Nic Robertson, returning from a recent visit to the embattled country, worries that those in the largely Sunni-based opposition who are inclined to reach out to Syria's other communities may no longer have that option, as "the hard-liners are already jockeying for post-al-Assad power."