In Tunisia and Egypt, the role of the military was crucial in determining the fate of uprisings. In Syria, as well, the military is the only institution that has the capability to lead a democratic transition. The sight of tanks rolling into Deraa might lead one to assume that the army is entrenched within
the regime. Indeed, the military’s 4th division is led by Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, an especially despised figure amongst the public. However, there have been increasing reports of rank-and-file soldiers refusing to shoot on protesters and ultimately defecting from the 5th division. Moreover, the Syrian people respect the army and distinguish between the brutality of the security forces, which perpetrated the 1982 Hama massacre, and the army, which is seen as securing the nation’s unity.
As such, it is important to closely monitor the behavior of the army as developments unfold. In particular, current Minister of Defense General Ali Habib and Chief of Staff General Dawud Rajha could play a positive role in the days to come. As members of the Alawite and Christian communities— both minority groups that fear the repercussions of majority rule if Assad were to fall—their potential defections could inspire these communities to abandon the regime. Moreover, the two leaders are viewed as military men with no links to the security apparatus. This relative neutrality could enable them to negotiate a transition of power.
It also calls on Obama to make a statement asking Assad to step down immediately, and working with Turkey to push for a transition. Where I disagree is on the the idea of the imposition of a trade embargo: we've seen where that leads in Iraq.