Making Syria the secondary theater compared to Iraq makes sense (with the caveat that I don't know if our strategy envisions a final stage of overthrowing Assad).
But we risk losing the Syria front before we are ready to address it if Assad uses our anti-ISIL air campaign in Syria to help him defeat all the rebels.
Yet even with our effective help against ISIL, Assad has too few people trying to control too much, while enduring too many military casualties, to be sure he can exploit our anti-ISIL air campaign.
Have no doubt, the casualties have been astounding:
Some 4,000 soldiers from Tartous have been killed in the war, according to a Syrian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media.
The death toll forms some 10 percent of the estimated 40,400 soldiers killed, even though Tartous' population is fewer than a million people — less than one-twentieth of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million. Alawites form some 13 percent of Syria's population, concentrated in the coastal provinces and the central city of Homs.
Other groups back the Assad regime, but if you assume a quarter of Syria's population is backing Assad, about 6 million people have lost 40,000 dead soldiers (and militia) so far.
There were people here who believed that 4,500 troops (from all services) lost to combat and other causes in Iraq over more years from a population of over 300 million Americans would break our Army.
Assad could be running out of loyal troops (contrary to the happy talk of Assad's army growing stronger from the war):
As the war grinds on, with no decisive winner and no political headway, the military is becoming low on personnel resources, meaning there'll be no rest for Alawites soon. ...
This week, soldiers at checkpoints in Tartous began stopping men aged between 23 and 42 years old, examining their ID cards and ordering some of them to report for reserve duty. Men were taking alternative routes to avoid being caught.
There was no formal announcement of the move, and an official on state-run television this week denied what he called "rumors" that men were being seized.
And what is their sacrifice achieving? They are just buying time, yet even the battered rebellion is putting pressure on the the government:
Despite ISIL being tied down in Kobane and with rebellious Sunni tribes in the east, government forces are losing ground. That’s because ISIL has allowed an informal truce to evolve with other rebel groups. This allowed all rebels, including ISIL, to go back to fighting government forces. That has led to a growing number of setbacks for government forces. For example, earlier this year, after a two year long battle rebels conceded defeat and abandoned the central Syrian city of Homs. The army had been fighting to take Homs for nearly two years and in late 2013 was reinforced by a “foreign legion” (of Iran sponsored volunteers from Lebanon and Iraq). Government forces destroyed most of the city as they drove the rebels back. The city had been surrounded for over a year but the army cordon was not impenetrable until 2014. Supplies became impossible to get into the city. This led the rebels to agree to a deal that had them abandoning the city in return for safe passage out. The Assad forces saw Homs as a key battle because it was astride the roads from Damascus to the pro-government Alawite areas on the coast. For that route to be useful the Assad forces had to gain control of the roads and villages between Damascus and the coast. That only lasted until October and now rebels are again capable of attacking traffic on the roads between Damascus and the coast. This means supplies for Damascus, especially fuel, can no longer move unhindered. Heavy fighting continues around Aleppo and Damascus where the rebels are retaking areas they lost earlier in 2014 to government forces. The government is having similar problems around Aleppo and throughout central Syria. [emphasis added]
Yes, many Syrians believe they must defend Assad to avoid the alternative of a Sunni Arab jihadi win.
But some are beginning to worry that the cost in lives might be futile, with only the Assad family escaping unscathed. If that thinking spreads, Assad's supporters might head for Lebanon or other places abroad rather than pay the price of resistance and pay the price of losing.
Assad is keeping his head above water because he is getting substantial support from Iran and Russia while his internal enemies lack anything similar. But he is losing this war.
That doesn't mean we win it, if there is no viable alternative to ISIL or other jihadis sweeping into Damascus should the Assad military break and run for the exits.