While U.S. officials continue to publicly advocate arming and aiding the armed groups in Syria, others say the opposition’s turn to violence has stymied a revolution and strengthened the Assad regime. Hugo Dixon from Reuters:
The Assad regime probably likes the fact that the opposition has embraced armed struggle. This solidifies its support among its core constituency – the Alawites, who represent about 10 percent of the population – as well as other minorities such as Christians. The regime can argue it has to hit back hard, otherwise it will be massacred. What’s more, it has seen brutality work in the past. Assad’s father survived a rebellion in Hama 30 years ago after killing around 20,000 people.
Non-violent struggle has roughly twice the chance of bringing down dictators as armed struggle, according to a study of 20th and early 21st Century conflicts, Why Civil Resistance Works, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan. Among the many reasons for this, those close to the regime feel less threatened by non-violent tactics and so are more likely to shift their allegiance while it is easier to involve millions of people in Gandhian style civil disobedience than in military operations.
While a U.S. military intervention would be an utter disaster, few doubt that the U.S. war machine would make short shrift of the Assad regime. That kind of war seems improbable at least at the moment, but Washington is instead pushing for arming the rebels in a proxy war. This, according to the above-cited research, is much less likely to oust Assad and much more likely to kill loads more people.