Ask any intelligence analyst, policy planner, or public policy wonk -- it's really hard to see trees, the forest, or anything else for that matter when you're in the eye of the hurricane.
We're already deep into Last Chance 3.0 for Bashar al-Assad's regime, but the arc of its demise is still likely to take more twists and turns before the story ends. Most difficult to divine -- and upon which so much of the future hinges -- is who or what will emerge to rule in Damascus when the dust finally settles. Indeed, the bulk of the so-called silent majority of Syrians -- Sunnis and Alawites alike responsible for Assad's longevity -- have not been spoken for.
Still, here's a preliminary scorecard of who is likely to come out on top, ahead, behind, or underground.
1. Bashar and the Assads: Bashar's DNA doomed him. Forget the trope of the modern man who was going to reform Syria. There was no way that growing up in a family whose nurture/nature meld was a cross between the Sopranos and the Corleones could have turned out any other way. Whether he's shot crawling out of drainpipe like Qaddafi (unlikely), tried like Milosevic in the Hague (more unlikely), spends his life living in a dacha on the Moskva (getting warmer), or manages for a time to seek refuge in Alawistan, the end of the line is approaching. In this region, the only regimes that can be handed down generation after generation are the authoritarian kingly dynasties, never the brittle republics run by secular strongmen. Bashar is done; stick a fork in him. In the respect and legacy department, he's going to make Rodney Dangerfield look good.
2. Alawites: Think post-Saddam Iraq without the American intervention. Another empowered minority (12-13 percent of the population) is about to become an aggrieved minority. Reconciliation and inclusiveness would be great in the new Syria. Sadly, there will be a lot of pressure to look back not forward, to settle scores, and to get even. With enough outside help, Syria may be lucky enough to avoid the worst kind of sectarian score-settling. This would likely require an international stabilization force, a great deal of money, and an enlightened policy on the part of big brother Arabs, particularly the Saudis and the Turks. Still, the biggest losers will be Alawites who benefitted from the regime's largess and who are likely to end up poorer and less secure as the rising Sunnis divide the pie amongst themselves. Syria is in for an abrupt redistribution of economic and political power. And no one will feel this more forcefully than the Alawites, particularly if the Baath Party is disbanded or criminalized and Alawite military elites are prosecuted or stripped of command.
3. Christians: This won't be a happy outcome for Christians, either. Assad's departure could remove two important safeguards for Syria's Christian community (roughly 10 percent of the population). First, as long as they remained in power, Alawites had a stake in legitimizing their own minority status by protecting fellow minorities. Second, the stability -- false as it was -- that the Assads guaranteed made minority status fairly secure as long as such groups did not challenge the regime.
As the Syrian system collapses, the only certainty is that Sunnis will dominate the new order. And if the state secularism that the Assads promoted evaporates, the Christians, particularly those who have cooperated closely with the regime, could find themselves increasingly marginalized in a more traditionally Sunni land.
4. Hezbollah: Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Lebanon's Hezbollah, has been whistling past the graveyard lately in his support for Assad. Hezbollah will survive Assad's fall -- the organization is an authentic and dominant player in Lebanese politics, not some kind of remote-controlled proxy -- but one of its two strongest patrons is about to be replaced by a Sunni (and most likely hostile) regime. To be sure, Iran is the group's more important partner. But Syria -- even while there were tensions with Hezbollah over the years -- has been a faithful guarantor of weapons, intelligence, and muscle inside Lebanon. It has also provided some, though not much, deterrence against Israel. With Syria offline, it remains an open question whether Hezbollah could mount as forceful a response to external aggression -- from Iran, Israel, or the United States -- as it could have in the past.