Myth #1: The Syrian regime is divided about change. They're not divided at all, from the president to the rank and file of the despised Shabbiha, that no change is to ever take place at the expense of Alawite (or Nusayri, they're one and the same word here) hegemony. Cosmetically, the president has done a fine job of dangling the promise of change, the will to change, and even the first steps of change before world opinion and his own people, all the better to lull them into an umpteenth rerun of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ("the more it changes, the more it's the same thing").
Myth #2: Syria is Israel's fiercest enemy. This has long been the essential party line of Baath schoolbooks and public discourse but in reality "not one shot has been fired at Israel in 40 years" goes the street adage (despite some battling in 1982) and the real enemy, in terms of human tolls, surveillance apparatus and military presence, has been Syria's own population, Palestinians, and the Lebanese. "The Zionist enemy" is just a decoy construct designed to monopolize sentiment and enshrine legitimacy by orchestrating the imminence of war while absolutely averting it.
Myth #3: Syria and Bashar el Assad are sensitive about their image in the West. This is true only insofar as it affects lining the regime's pockets with the wealth of its nation by hijacking national contracts and building up offshore bank accounts. As for accountability to international laws or respect for basic human rights, state doctrine is nothing short of Goebbelsian--lie, lie, and then lie some more; something will stick; and their Stalinist ways of handling dissent while keeping up a personality cult have not changed since the Cold War.
Myth #4: Alawites, the minority sect of Bashar el Assad, are an Islamic offshoot of Shiism. In reality the Alawite-dominated regime's purveyors are dogmatic atheists who run secularism youth camps. Their Iran connection is purely a marriage of convenience with two positions in common: a hard stance against the West and a counterweight to Sunni power and influence in the region. In Daraa in June 2011 Shabbiha thugs blared songs that cursed God from atop the loudspeakers of deserted mosques, among them the refrain: "Is it not time for You (ma hallak) to seat Bashshar on Your Throne instead of You (mahallak)?"
Myth #5: The Syrian regime is a protective buffer against an Islamist takeover. This is the biggest of the five myths. It is a fact that the Alawi regime under the two Assads has been a major sponsor, developer, and exporter of terrorism at home and abroad. Yet a Sunni takeover would be run by the Muslim Brotherhood who not only have no such terroristic record (and have even formally renounced violence and adopted a reformist platform, calling for the establishment of a pluralistic, democratic political system) but are themselves targeted by al-Qaeda as sellouts.
President Obama in June 2009 spoke of the promise of representative government at Egypt's al-Azhar and the Arab Spring movements have demanded exactly that. Instead of hiding under those five myths on the pretext that “what may come may be worse,” now is the time to lend a hand and take a stand. Otherwise, the new Syria will forever regard the West as double-dealing hypocrites. Change in Syria would not only relieve Syrians of two generations of oppression and corruption; it would help keep neighboring Iraq and Jordan stable and isolate Iran which is the biggest stumbling-block to a just peace in the region. Supporting such change is exactly the kind of leadership the Syrian people and the world expect from the United States. (*) For the author's protection, Fazlur Rahman is a pseudonym. A nom de plume. The author spent most of the last decade and a half living in Damascus.