“None of the participants believed that the Syrian opposition would be strong enough to maintain some amount of civil order throughout the country after the fall of Assad, and none of the teams supported strong international intervention to play that role,” participant Nora Bensahel of the Center for a New American Security wrote in a recap published on the Website of Foreign Policy magazine.
“This means that whenever and however Assad falls, civil strife could well escalate into violence and possibly into a continued civil war,” she added.
State Department officials don’t dispute the opposition’s disarray but insist that groups such as the Syrian National Council, a Turkey-based collective of mainly exiles, have made progress over the past six months in identifying common goals and strategies.
State Department officials praised opposition members who met earlier this month in Cairo for hammering out a blueprint of a constitution for a post-Assad Syria – an achievement that came only after two days of tense talks and even a fistfight over Kurdish demands.
Now, the American officials said, they’re also nudging the most prominent opposition forces toward more leadership of the mostly autonomous, leaderless Free Syrian Army, the armed insurgency about which little is known.
“The connections between the opposition and the Free Syrian Army are still tenuous, but they’re getting better,” one State Department official said. “If we can get Assad and his cronies out, that will at least create an atmosphere to have a dialogue. That can’t happen now.”
Then there are efforts to build bridges to the domestic opposition, which includes the Local Coordination Committees and the Supreme Council for the Syrian Revolution, semi-formal local governing bodies that emerged from the protests that began the revolt.
Samer al Hussein, an opposition activist from Hama who’s been in stuck in Damascus since the latest violence, predicted that the local, grassroots councils that sprang from the revolution would form the backbone of an interim authority if the government falls soon.
The Syrian National Council, he added, could be a part of the transition, but he said, “I don’t think the SNC is very qualified to work on the political side.”
“I think there will be chaos, but I think the revolutionary councils are organized and they now know how to work to some extent,” Hussein said by telephone from Damascus, the booms of shelling audible in the background. “We have some authority.”
McClatchy special correspondent David Enders contributed.