Michael J Totten, in an article in Commentary, sets out the pointlessness of trying to “engage” the Syrian regime. In it, he says:
While Assad’s secular Arab Socialist Baath Party ideology differs markedly from Ali Khamenei’s Velayat-e Faqih, “resistance” is at the molten core of each one. Syria’s and Iran’s lists of enemies — Sunni Arabs, Israel, and the United States — are identical.His point can be taken rather further.
Syria is a case (along with its hated Ba'athist former rival Iraq) of 'secular' in the Middle East meaning 'the ruling group is from a religious minority'. In the case of Iraq, it was a Sunni Arab minority ruling over a Shi'a Arab majority while also oppressing the Kurdish minority. It is perfectly true that Syria is Sunni in population but it is Alawite in ruling elite, with Alawites dominating the military and intelligence leadership (i.e. the core of the regime: an example of asabiyyah in operation). So the Syrian regime allying with fellow Shi'a Iran and Hezbollah makes perfect sense. They literally speak a common religious language, at least in general.
It also means that foreign crusades and enemies are necessary to maintain power. The worst thing that could happen to the Alawite-dominated regime in Syria is genuine peace breaking out, since that would make domestic politics dominant and leave their minority rule naked (or, at least, greatly reduce the significance of their levers of power).
For those with eyes to see, the Alawite-dominated regime was signalling clearly with what drives it in the recent Assad-Ahmadinejad meeting when the participants openly mocked the Obama Administration and called for a Middle East “free of Zionists”. The US response simply does not fit in with the realities of such logic:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the return of an ambassador marked a "slight opening" toward Syria but that ultimately the United States expects Assad to curb his ties with Iran and his support for militant groups like the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip.The notion that “of course” peace is in the interests of the Syrian regime simply plays no attention to the logic of the regime’s actual nature and position.
But Assad and Ahmadinejad on Thursday emphasized that their countries' relationship had deepened with the signing of an agreement waiving visa restrictions for travel.
The relationship between Iran and Syria has become one of the central alliances in the region, of particular interest now as a barometer of the success of U.S. policy toward Iran and of whether a larger Arab-Israeli peace deal is possible.