Is Syria Facing a Yugoslavia-Style Breakup?

“This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday, following the Damascus bombing that lacerated the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “And for that reason, it’s extremely important that the international community [has] to bring maximum pressure on Assad to do what’s right — to step down and to allow for that peaceful transition.” Panetta’s concern is understandable, because Syria is no longer under the effective control of the Assad regime, and the outcome of the civil war is moving increasingly beyond the control of the U.S. and its allies or any other international powers. Needless to say, his prescription for maximum international pressure on Assad to step down appears to be wishful thinking. The same may be true for the Obama Administration’s idea of a “managed transition” in which the opposition cooperates with a regime that remains intact after Assad has been removed.

Russia remains firm in its opposition to Western efforts to press for Assad’s ouster. “If we are talking about a revolution, the U.N. has no business here,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. “Assad won’t quit, and our Western partners don’t know what to do.” Indeed, the latest violence in the capital renders even more remote the soft landing envisaged by Panetta and the best-case peace scenario of U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. The denouement of the Assad regime is likely to be nasty, brutish and not especially short.

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