Is the Glass Half Full for Syria’s Assad?

He may no longer control huge swathes of Syrian territory, but his forces appear nowhere near collapse. Over the past 18 months, at least, the dictator has beaten the odds

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Manu Brabo / AP

A Syrian man cries next to the body of his friend near Dar El Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 4, 2012.

Alarmed by the sense that Washington is preparing for a scenario in which the Syria war drags on for many months yet, some of Turkey’s recent moves may point to a growing urgency in Ankara about quickly resolving the Syria crisis, rather than living with the consequences of a long war.  Foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu last weekend publicly nominated Assad’s deputy president, Farouk al-Sharaa, as an acceptable figure to head a transitional government, a suggestion quickly rejected by rebel groups.

Even the reported deployment of some 150 U.S. soldiers in neighboring Jordan to help that country plan for various Syria contingencies is unlikely to unduly trouble Damascus. Reports of the deployment suggests its purpose is to help “insulate” a key regional ally from the fallout on its own terrain from Syria’s civil war, and perhaps to prepare for an emergency contingency of securing Syria’s stock of chemical weapons should the regime be in danger of losing control of them. The political consensus in Washington opposes direct military intervention in Syria, even if there are differences over the question of facilitating arms transfers to the rebels.

Insulating Jordan could even be a two-way street, not only preventing the Syrian military from conducting cross-border operations but also preventing anti-Assad insurgents using it as a sanctuary from which to stage attacks: The salafist current in the Syrian insurgency would, in the long-term, pose as much threat to the Hashemite monarchy as to the Assad dictatorship, and Jordan hardly wants jihadists operating on its own soil, even if their immediate target is in Damascus. It may also want to avoid the sort of artillery barrages that raged across the Turkey-Syria border last week, which are likely to have begun because the border territory on the Syrian side is in rebel hands, and Turkey has been allowing the rebels to operate from its territory. Unable to directly retake that ground, Assad’s forces have instead resorted to shelling rebel held border areas, and apparently deliberately firing into Turkey, too.

(PHOTOS: The Victims of Assad)

Things are hardly looking good for Assad at this point.  His prospects for defeating the rebellion and restoring control over all of Syria appear remote. He governs by naked force and fear of the alternative, and even then, over a shrinking domain. Still, he’s far from beaten, and if anything, the more immediate danger may be that Syria itself is breaking up into warring fiefdoms along the lines seen in neighboring Lebanon from the 1970s until 1992.

Assad’s opponents, of course, had hoped that he would, by now, have been removed from the scene, either by exile, imprisonment or death.  But the regime itself appears to have either chosen, or stumbled onto,  the terrain of sectarian civil war — the “Milosevic Option” we dubbed it last January – stirring fears of an extremist-led Sunni rebellion to rally his own Alawite sect and other minorities, and even the urban Sunni bourgeoisie, and then making that a self-fulfilling prophecy by violently suppressing peaceful protests. Assad also coolly assessed the regional and international strategic balance and concluded that he could count on strong backing from Iran and Russia against any attempt to dispatch him a la Gaddafi.

Milosevic, of course,  eventually got his comeuppance at the hands of his own people, and died in a prison cell at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It may well be that a similar fate eventually awaits Assad. But Milosevic was ousted eight years after the beginning of the wars that ended Yugoslavia, and in the interim, the Serbian strongman had succeeded in making himself indispensable to the process ending the very wars he’d played a major role in starting. That moment came when ending the war became a greater priority in the minds of the global power brokers than changing the power arrangements. Assad if far from achieving that goal, and he may never do so. But with the second anniversary of the Syrian rebellion just over four months away, he may have more reason for satisfaction over the course of events, at this point,  than do his adversaries.

MORE: Why the Syrian Rebels May Be Guilty of War Crimes

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7 comments
mladenm
mladenm

Rebels never did anything to distance themselves from Islamic extremist. For example, they never proclaimed universal equality in front of law - bedrock of any modern society , not just liberal democracy. However, Sharia does not recognize it. Neither they kept demanding free and fair elections - they wanted power on silver platter. But with half Syrian population who are either non-Sunni or secular Sunni, rebels never had critical mass of people to overrun the government. So thy moved war to Sunni neighbourhoods of some towns turning them into war zone, while government supporters are fairly safe.

But main problem here is survival of Arab Secularism. If it is overrun, and Salafist set their terms to whole Middle East, Europe will erect Iron curtain around it. There were enough religious and ideological wars in Europe in last 500 years. In last 50 years own extremists were quieted, but now passions are rising again. Taking any Muslim hard-liners would only worsen thing. And if all Muslim become hard-liners, gates of Europe (and probably USA) will remind closed to them until they eventually adopt liberal democracy. In 10 or 200 years, it's up to them. So, to prevent new cold war (one which technologically inferior Muslim world would lose) it is critical to prevent Salafist takeover in Syria.

malsaba
malsaba

 Nonsense.

mladenm
mladenm

Malsaba, and that is easier to you then face the facts? Here is your homework:

1) Why is Islamic radicalism on rise?

2) Natural response is rise of anti-Muslim sentiments (also on rise)

3) Secular forces are  on losing side of all so called "Arab Spring" regime changes

4) What happens when there are no more suit-and-tie Muslim coming to West? Ask anybody in Europe, do they want more folks in abaya and shalvar kameez around, or they would rather send those back home?

Jabli Izvesti
Jabli Izvesti

The Benghazi attack,for example,has blown up in the face of the U.S in its jihad against the secular dictators in preference to the Islamist ones.Instances like this have naturally boosted the morale of the Assad forces.The so-called world community has also seen the other side of the Arab Spring.No wonder it is not  so eager for a regime change in Damascus.One Morsi is enough for now.

Donna C. Ruiz
Donna C. Ruiz

@facebook-100003096480500:disqus a Syria-bound civilian airliner on suspicion of carrying weapons from Moscow. $85 an hour! Seriously I don't know why more people haven't tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening…And whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids. Heres where I went,..NDOQESB.Tk

drorbenami
drorbenami

wow tony baloney.....30,000 people in 18 months......that's like "15 operations cast lead" in a row, isn't it ?

also, did TIME'S crack bureau chief in Jerusalem "Tim the Jerk" ever discover the identity of that israeli soldier who wrote the graffitti on the wall in Gaza ???

okay, granted, while it is true that graffitti is not as bad as throwing people off of roofs or torturing children like they are now doing in syria, nevertheless, the palestinians are very sensitive people and this israeli war criminal should be hunted down and punished...

R3I Consulting
R3I Consulting

Interesting, thank you.  I suspect the key point is in the final paragraph: when the international community gives peace more priority than Regime change.  Hitherto, it seems the West has had a fixation with removing Assad, however illogical or counter-productive to Western national interests that may be.