The Washington Post reports: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power is looking less certain than his recent assertions of victory suggest, as America snubs his appeals for a partnership, Islamic State militants inflict defeats on his troops and his own Alawite constituency shows signs of growing discontent.
Far from looking invincible, the man who blamed terrorists for the rebellion against him instead is at risk of being cast as the leader under whose watch they flourished and who now can’t do anything to check — much in the way Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki was held to account for the fall of the city of Mosul.
The shift does not appear to have registered with Assad, who remains confident, his supporters say, that the United States and its allies will soon be forced to seek his partnership in an international coalition against terrorism.
President Obama is expected to spell out his own strategy for confronting the Islamic State in a speech Wednesday that will prioritize Iraq, seemingly deferring yet again any effort to confront the mess that Syria’s war has become and leaving Assad in place for the foreseeable future.
Neither the Islamic State militants concentrated in the north and east of Syria nor the more moderate, Western-backed rebels pose any immediate military threat to Assad’s grip on power. Iran and Russia show no signs of wavering in their support for his regime.
Yet there is also a growing recognition in Washington and allied capitals that the breathtaking militant gains require a broader approach to the underlying grievances that fueled their ascent, U.S. officials and diplomats say, refocusing attention on Assad’s role in the brutal suppression of the Sunni-dominated revolt against his rule.
In the weeks since Assad’s triumphant claim that he had prevailed over his foes after his victory in tightly controlled elections, his boasts seem more shaky and his approach may be about to backfire.
A string of humiliating defeats inflicted on the Syrian army in the northeastern province of Raqqah last month suggested that Assad, like many in the region and beyond, had underestimated the gathering strength of the former al-Qaeda affiliate. The Syrian government refrained from confronting the Islamic State throughout its year-long rise to power, which conveniently sustained the narrative that extremism was the only alternative, according to Syrians who speak regularly to members of the regime. [Continue reading…]