by Elie Obeid

7 years in to the Syrian Revolution, can Assad still rule in Syria? He might remain in power but ruling the country would be a challenge. More than half a million dead, 11 million refugees, cities burned to the ground, hundreds of billions of US Dollars in reconstruction bills and one of the biggest humanitarian crises the world has ever known weren’t what the revolutionaries of 15 March 2011, dreamed of. What they had once expected to be an ousting of the Assad Baath dictatorship regime, similar to what happened in “Tunisia”, turned over the course of the years into a bloody civil war that ravaged the country. Oppression of the revolutionaries in the early months, the insurgence of ISIS, proxy wars and foreign interference mutilated a once hopeful revolution and broke the country’s social structure.

Flagged with the use of barrel bombs in air strikes, chemical attacks, inhuman assaults on civilians and sieges among other things, the Syrian war proved to be a realistic representation of the saying; “the end justifies the means”.

During the course of the years, the Syrian war saw the power balance shift between sides repeatedly, along with a continuous exchange of territories between different players. The major turning point in the war was September 2015, for it saw the first direct military involvement of Russia giving the Assad regime a competitive advantage over his less fortunate opponents.

Moving back to current day, Assad can’t keep control. It is true that Assad was able to gain back territories he had formerly lost, but he did so with the support of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah fighters and other militias, coupling his military actions with Russian vetoes within the United Nations.

The country is irreparably divided, to a point where it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine a path of reconciliation, rebuilding and restoring governance with Assad in power. The Assad regime has not only breached the Geneva Protocol, but has also been involved in the use of other norms of war such as ethnic cleansing and sexual violence as tools of repression.

It is also worth noting that too many players are involved in the Syrian war. The United States for instance, had previously announced plans to have an open-ended military presence in Syria with the goal of ensuring the defeat of the Islamic State, countering Iranian influence in addition to helping to end the civil war. Turkey is pursuing its own plans in Syria, the Iranians and Russians won’t make things any easier and it is very unlikely that the Kurds will give up control of the autonomous territory they have gained.

Although it is unlikely to happen, it is still probable that the country would slip into another Iraq. Aside from foreign forces, there are different groups fighting in Syria, the Free Syrian Army, Islamists, Kurds and the infamous ISIS, and fighters don’t just disappear.

To top all of that, the cost of rebuilding Syria is estimated to be 250 Billion USD according the United Nation’s Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan De Mistura, a bill that neither Russia nor Iran can afford with their current economic condition. Russia has been trying to push the European Union to fund the reconstruction in Syria but the EU doesn’t seem to show any excitement for it. At the same time, it doesn’t seem that International Organizations are eager to join hands with Assad in an effort to rebuild the country.

The United States can still play a major role in shaping the future of Syria, provided it adopts a more concise strategy towards the Syrian conflict and a different approach towards the players involved in it.

Victory in warfare is defined by defeating your opponents. But in a complicated situation such as the Syrian War, with all the factors that come into play; foreign interference, proxy wars, victory remains a wish in the eyes of its beholder. While Assad might win, his ability to rule such a complexity that he helped create is a hopeful one-sided act, with the future of Syria remains unforeseen.

23 April 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 72