There's plenty of speculation around about what may happen once the Assad regime falls. One suggestion is that the Alawites, the sect to which the President belongs, will base themselves on the coast, allowing a largely Sunni opposition to control the rest of the country. However, Joshua Landis has offered a compelling five-point argument as to why Syria is unlikely to be partitioned.
On Tuesday, Michael Doran, an official in the George W. Bush Administration, revisited the argument for the Wall Street Journal. After a brief history claiming Syria's sectarian nature, Doran argues that the remnants of the Assad regime will regroup on the coast, forming an Iranian satellite nation with a vested hatred for Israel and the Jews:
When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus --- and this loss is almost a certainty --- his Russian and Iranian patrons won't abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hezbollah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force.
If the rebels finally succeed in dislodging the regime from the main cities, it will retreat to the north, and the autonomous Alawite canton that Bashar al-Assad's grandfather envisioned will finally be born. "Alawistan," as the Mideast scholar Tony Badran called it, will join Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as another sectarian island in the Iranian archipelago of influence.
Doran asserts this possibility is justification for immediate US intervention:
If the breakup of Syria and the rise of an Iranian-backed canton are indeed undesirable, then Washington must get to work immediately to create an alternative. The planning should begin in Turkey, which borders not just Aleppo but also the future canton of Alawistan.
This analysis is deeply flawed. First, despite increased violence in recent weeks, this is not necessarily sectarian in nature. With the regime focusing on Free Syrian Army fighters, concerns about Alawite militias attacking Sunni villages have been pushed into the background --- at least for now.
Secondly, this argument assumes that the fall of Damascus will not be decisive for the survival of the regime. President Assad and his inner circle have put the majority of their forces in Damascus, Aleppo Daraa, and Homs --- if these areas were to fall to the Free Syrian Army, there would be no escape route for the remnants of the Assad faction.
Thirdly, the Syrian opposition would see an Alawite country, particularly one with coastal access, as an existential threat and would not allow the territory to break away. The opposition, far from being passive, is present in Lattakia, Tartous, the inland mountains, and areas of the coast.
These points, however, are probably peripheral to Doran's primary approach, however. Frankly, this reads more as a fear-mongering, Iran-bashing article, rationalising US intervention in Syria and --- possibly --- setting up an argument for a direct move against the Islamic Republic.
Iran's influence in this conflict is obvious. It is financially, and to a lesser extent militarily, supporting the Assad regime. Its ally Russia is blocking any progress at the international level. Hezbollah is also doubling down in its support for the Assad regime. But to oversimplify this complicated conflict into a proxy war, or a sectarian conflict, or an imperial/anti-imperial struggle, or any other cliché, is to ignore the history of the entire conflict and the broader facts on the ground.