Neil Quilliam writes: Yesterday President Barack Obama called for a political transition in Syria that would leave Bashar al-Assad temporarily in power. It is a proposal that seems to enjoy support among other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Though a bad policy, the move should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Syrian history. The Assads — father and son — have learned that if they dig in and wait for the tide to turn, they will not only survive, but prosper. As Bente Scheller argues, they are masters at the ‘waiting game’.
Assad’s back was firmly against the wall when he crossed US President Obama’s red line in the summer of 2013 by using chemical weapons, but then Russia stepped in to save him and embarrass the US. The subsequent advance of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 2014 handed Assad another opportunity to sidestep international opprobrium, which he used to intensify atrocities against civilians. Since the US-led anti-ISIS coalition came together and prioritized degrading and destroying that organization, Assad’s regime has, in effect, been let off the hook. This despite the Syrian regime being responsible for more civilian fatalities and injuries than ISIS — at least 110,000 according to some sources.
Although Western leaders may grit their teeth, they are now willing to allow Assad to be part of a ‘managed transition’. Their own transition to accepting Assad is the result of a combination of factors, namely the likely longevity of the civil war and its impact on the EU in terms of refugees, unerring Russian and Iranian commitment to securing the regime, and their own diplomatic shortcomings. Western powers, it seems, have no answers, haunted as they are by the ghosts of interventions past. In short, they have nothing left in their diplomatic tool bag and begrudgingly accept that Russia and Iran are better positioned to impose a settlement; one that includes Assad. [Continue reading…]