The recent revelation that the Syrian military is preparing chemical weapons is the latest indication that the situation in Syria is slipping increasingly out of Bashar al-Assad's control. Fighting in Damascus has intensified, the USS Eisenhower is off the Syrian coast, Turkey is ready to defend itself, Russia is withdrawing its support, and the international community has promised an "immediate response" if Assad decides to use chemical weapons.
From the Saudi Gazette:
Put bluntly this is a writhing serpent in its death throes, which is still capable of spitting out its venom, in one final despairing assault on its enemies. The Free Syrian Army has been making considerable headway in recent weeks, overrunning military bases and airfields. Indeed the FSA currently claims to have surrounded another government airbase in Damascus. This has not only robbed the regime of key installations, but it has also allowed the insurgents to arm themselves with heavier weapons, including tanks.
The situation is not looking good for Assad, and those who have been putting pressure on the regime must be prepared for the aftermath of the civil war.
Although many will welcome Assad's downfall it is far from obvious that whatever government follows will be able to ensure stability. The Syrian rebels are not a homogeneous group, and some of the more worrying elements of Assad's opposition are motivated by holy war, oftentimes with American weapons. Militants with links to Al Qaeda have dismissed the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and have called for the creation of an Islamic state in Syria. Once Assad falls these Islamic extremist groups will almost certainly cause problems for whoever takes over.
Although the civil war in Syria is often portrayed as a conflict between a brutal Assad regime and an oppressed opposition the reality is that the conflict involves unpleasant groups on both sides in a situation U.S. policy makers would do well to avoid.