How the West and the Syrian opposition handed Assad another presidential term
After thousands of deaths, hundreds of barrel bombs, millions of refugees, widescale destruction, starvation and even the use of chemicals, Bashar al-Assad somehow clung on to power.
The fact that after all the trials and tribulations of the Syrian civil war that Assad retains a firm grip on power, is as much about the resilience of the regime and the strong support it continues to retain at home and also abroad through Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, as the large-scale failing of the West and the Syrian opposition.
From the outset of the revolution, Western powers were indecisive and inconsistent in how they should encourage or support the revolution.
Foreign policy decision making, especially from the Unites States was so labored that by time external decisions were made, the picture on the ground had already fundamentally changed.
This is particularly true at the start of the war in 2011 when the Western position was slow and tentative. As the West wavered on their next steps, Islamist forces had long high-jacked the Syrian revolution.
Now from the brink of defeat, Assad awarded himself another 7 years in power. There is no doubt the recent presidential elections were tainted with corruption, but the even then no one can deny that Assad still enjoys support amongst a large section of Syrians.
If fully legitimate, fair and verifiable elections were to be held tomorrow across all of Syria, Assad would certainly not win anywhere near 87% of the vote but would still record a strong showing that cannot be discounted.
This is an ironic reality given Assad’s wide-scale destruction, starvation and reprisal and speaks volumes on the declining faith in the opposition.
Millions more Syrians support the revolution but discouraged by a disunited opposition seemingly too busy fighting amongst themselves or a West that they doubt would ever take real action, prefer the devil that is Assad than the literal ruins of today if it means return of their livelihood, homes or any sense of normalcy .
The elections were widely criticized by the US and EU powers whilst the opposition vowed to step up their campaign. Only last week US President Barack Obama stated that US would "ramp up" support for rebels. While National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently confirmed the US was offering both "lethal and non-lethal" aid to moderate rebels.
While the West implements measures, it is done with a sense of hesitancy and at a sluggish pace. It was clear since the failure of the Geneva talks in February that Assad would not relinquish power, nor would Russia accept his downfall just to open doors to the Western sponsored opposition.
The cue to change foreign policy should have come after a series of American red lines were nonchalantly crossed by the regime, let alone when the Geneva talks had failed.
Piecemeal gestures will not turn the tide and practical game-changing measures will not be endorsed by the West. Unfortunately, the end result is a de facto partition of Syria with the Kurds continuing with their newfound autonomy, Assad consolidating his hold on the Damascus, Homs and Latakia axis and the rebels continuing to fight amongst themselves over swathes of territory around Aleppo, Raqa and the Turkish border.
It was no secret that some western powers prefer a deal with Assad than an Islamist take-over of Damascus but how will Assad vacate power now? Why relinquish power when regime is in its ascendancy and regaining ground when it didn’t fold at its weakest point?
The only thing that will force Assad to negotiate is either a significant turning of the tide in the civil war which of course takes a significant empowering of the rebels by the West or any abandonment of the regime by Moscow or Tehran. None of these are likely to happen.
The end result is more suffering and more destruction as the civil war drags on.