In mid-December, the U.S. State Department’s point man on Syria, Frederic Hof, described the government of President Bashar al-Assad as ‘the equivalent of a dead man walking.” On February 6, President Barack Obama followed up by saying the fall of the regime was not a matter of if but of when.
He gave no timeline, unlike Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak who predicted months ago that the Assad regime would fall “within weeks.” Since that wishful thought, hundreds have died in ruthless government crackdowns on dissidents and the death toll in the 11-month uprising climbed past 5,000, according to the United Nations. Politicians now shy away from the risky business of predicting dates for an end to the widening conflict.
Not all bets are off, though. There are punters wagering money on the fall of the house of Assad on Intrade.com, a Dublin-based online exchange that allows traders to bet on politics and other current events. Like other markets, the exchange’s odds are based on the collective opinion of traders. On February 9, Intrade gave a 31% chance to Assad being out of office by the end of June and a 58% chance that he would be out by December 31, 2012.
Before you scoff on prediction markets, it’s worth noting that the Intrade market favorites, according to the company, won the electoral vote in all states in the 2004 U.S. presidential elections and market participants correctly anticipated the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003. That year, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced plans to set up an online market where investors would have traded futures in Middle East developments including coups, assassinations and terrorist attacks. Congressional opposition sank the idea.
Some experts on Syria expressed deep pessimism over an early end to the Syrian bloodshed even before the Chinese and Russian vetoes of a United Nations Security Council resolution that provided for Assad to hand over power to a deputy, withdraw troops from towns, stop the killing of dissidents and begin a transition to democracy.