Saturday, December 27, 2014

Following the Plan

Even if Assad survives this war, it is unlikely that he will rule Syria. And a war against the jihadis is assured even if Assad responsibly ends his part of the war.

Syria has become fragmented as Assad has hunkered down in the west and as various rebel factions carve out fiefdoms in the rest of Syria:

Deep into its fourth year of conflict, Syria looks less and less like a state than a patchwork of warring fiefdoms, making outside powers more reluctant to intervene even as it becomes more destabilizing for the region.

And even in Assad's territory, control from the top has been weakened:

“More and more warlords are rising in Syria, who are becoming difficult for the regime to control, which of course adds pressure on the Assad regime,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Some non-jihadis in the north may be finally rallying to hold their ground:

Rebel groups fighting in Syria's northern Aleppo province have agreed to form an alliance, a group monitoring the country's civil war said on Thursday.

While the inclusion of jihadis in the grouping is unfortunate, at least it stops the intra-rebel fighting.

It really is amazing how Assad has followed my playbook that I sketched two years ago: focus on controlling western Syria, work to fragment rebels, Hezbollah and Iranian help with troops, pro-Assad militias, and even getting America and Syria's Kurds to fight the jihadis, effectively making us Assad allies.

Of course, the final plays of that whole new war include expanding Assad's armed forces to then move out from his western Syria bastion to defeat the divided rebels and re-occupy Syria.

Both the astounding level of pro-regime security force casualties and the financial strain (made worse by the dramatic drop in oil revenue for Iran, Assad's main patron) make me doubt that Assad can fight the end stage of the war to fight for all of Syria.

Can Assad's supporters really endure these casualties and the economic pain for his personal survival?

But Assad still might emerge as the warlord of his own fiefdom, in a peace conference that gives John Kerry that Nobel Peace Prize he's lusted after.

Of course, two years after I made that suggestion as an alternative to more death and destruction (and assuming we still tried to squeeze Assad out of controlling even that Alawite principality), the jihadis are too strong in the rest of Syria for such a deal to have a chance of ending the war.

A post-division war against the jihadis in the outlying areas would just mean there would be a different war than the one we are in now. And it seems to be the war that will emerge even without a formal recognition of the division of Syria.