As 2012 draws to a close, Syrians approach the second anniversary of a bloody civil war with little immediate prospect of resolution. By some estimates, more than 40,000 people have been killed since a peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad in February 2011 morphed rapidly into a bloodbath. For a second year, the world has watched in horror as the Assad regime pulverized its own cities and towns with artillery and aerial strikes, the U.S. and its international allies unwilling to intervene. Western powers are reluctant to be drawn into yet another conflagration in the Middle East in which an authoritarian secular state is being torn apart along lines of religious sect. The chaos is being further fueled by regional proxy-war agendas (and new Cold War competition between the West, Russia and China) and has spilled over Syria’s borders into such tinderbox polities as Lebanon and Iraq. Western anxiety grows, meanwhile, over the role being played by a number of extremist Salafi Islamist militias. Assad’s power is being diminished and large parts of the country are effectively under rebel control, yet the body count affirms there’s plenty of fight left among Assad loyalists. The dictator seems destined to fall, although no one can predict when or at what further human cost, nor what sort of regime might replace him.
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