Assad’s Ba’ath Party, Syria’s War and Political Positioning

Hate, misery and death control Syria, and are escalating as multiple inner factions and outside governments battle and regroup in the face of Geneva II peace talks.  Expectantly, hopefully, there will be a lot of talking because there are layers and sub-layers and over-layers of warring religious and sectarian beliefs, and political positioning. 

 Syrian President Bashar Assad, who succeeded his father as president in 2000, was confirmed by the national electorate in 2000 and 2007, and is the general secretary of the Ba’ath party and the regional secretary in Syria.  The Arab Socialist Ba’ath party was founded on April 7, 1947, with a motto of “Unity, Liberty and Socialism”, and with ideals of freedom from non-Arab control and interference, and has been the ruling party in Syria since 1963.  The party split in 1966, and in Syria regrouped as the Syrian-dominated Ba’ath movement.  In 1970, President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, gained the presidency and reports detail that while he did not abolish the Ba’ath movement he caused substantial changes.  Hanna Batatu, widely considered the pre-eminent historian of Iraq and the modern Arab east, wrote, “Under [Hafez] Assad the character of the Ba’ath party changed” . . . “the regime sought to control the community at large” and “unconditional fidelity to Assad having ultimately overridden fidelity to old beliefs”.

 Initially, and leading up to March 15, 2011, Bashar Assad was hoped, at home and internationally, to be Syria’s reformer.  Civil opposition to Assad’s Ba’ath politics was let known by Sunnis on March 15, 2011, and a month later Assad deployed the Syrian Army to fire on demonstrators across the country.  Some of the Syrian Army defected to the opposition and contributed to the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which, on July 29, 2011, announced itself with the goals of, “Bringing down the regime”.  The escalation of armed conflict, shuffling of opposing factions, international positioning, and Syrian refugee numbers and degradation continue.

 In these past two-and-a-half years many battles have been fought, killing approximately 120,000 and causing an estimated 3 million refugees.  Last year opposition factions seemed to be winning the war, but more recently the FSA has taken a beating.   Factions currently in the mix inside of Syria include Assad’s regime, Sunnis, FSA, Al Quaeda, the Syrian National Coalition, Salafist jihadist Islamic groups, the Islamic Front, various Islamist extremists, Hezbollah, Alawites and Shias.

 Outside governments aiding, abetting and negotiating include the U.S., the U.K., China, France, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. 

 Goals for a political settlement are: a perspective for the future that can be shared by all in Syria; establishment of clear steps and firm timetable to realize that perspective, and that can be implemented in safety, stability and calm; and can be reached quickly without further bloodshed and violence, and is credible.

 Geneva II peace negotiations are scheduled for Jan. 22, 2014, and likely to be attended by about 32 countries.  Positioning of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey are that Assad must be removed from power.  Positioning of Russia and Iran are that Assad must remain in power.  Having previously balked, the Syrian government and opposition have now agreed to attend Geneva II.  Assad, currently in a position to prevail in Syria, will likely need a lot of motivation to make any change.

 Joan Brown ~