CFR interviews Joshua Landis on Syria

Joshua Landis: The opposition is in a state of chaos right now. The SNC, which has been the dominant external leadership and umbrella group for the opposition, and is led by Burhan Ghalyun, a French professor at the Sorbonne, is facing a crisis. It has been extremely successful in getting the international community organized to isolate the Assad regime and to turn against it. Ausama Monajed, as a right-hand man of Ghalyun’s, was largely responsible for getting both Europe and the United States to sanction Syria within an inch of its life. But what we’ve discovered in the last few weeks is that they failed to get a Western invasion of Syria, which would have capped their success and brought down the regime.

Did this diplomatic failure cause a major problem for the opposition?

This created a big shift in the balance of power within the opposition community because it has become increasingly obvious to opposition members, particularly the opposition members on the ground in Syria who are fighting the regime, that they have to get a military option. The opposition on the ground has suffered a major defeat with the crushing of Homs and the reoccupation of Homs, and more recently, the shelling of Idlib.

The Syrian military, since the Russian-Chinese veto, has pursued a classic campaign of capture and hold. It is taking a page right out of the U.S. playbook, and it is taking back territory from the insurgency and it’s holding it. The opposition had made the mistake, out of a sort of naïve enthusiasm, of believing that Syria’s campaign against the regime would be much like those in Tunisia and Egypt: that they didn’t have to be organized; they didn’t have to have a military option; and that the regime would collapse within months. They showed their faces, they videotaped themselves, they didn’t have secrecy, and now the regime is killing them and hunting them down.

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