Assad is enduring heavy casualties among his minority base of support, is broke and reliant on Iranian cash, and holds little territory in eastern, northern, or southern Syria.
But can Assad be said to be at least consolidating a rump Syria of the coastal region down to Damascus?
In southern and central Syria (south and north of Damascus) and along the coast the army and pro-government militias have been able to expel rebels and form a continuous Assad controlled area. Thanks to Iranian trainers, the pro-government militias are better trained and more effective as are the soldiers. All of these men are paid regularly and most see a better future than do many of the rebel fighters. The army is about half its pre-war strength of 300,000 but the remaining troops are loyal and most have combat experience. The army is expanding back to its pre-war strength.
So backed by Iranian cash, Assad has a base in the west where he can rebuild his ground forces? And possibly seek to regain control of the rest of Syria?
That's certainly what I said Assad had to do. But is Assad really doing this?
From the same Strategypage post:
Despite ISIL being tied down in Kobane and by rebellious Sunni tribes in the east, government forces are losing ground. That’s because ISIL has encouraged informal truces with other rebel groups to evolve into something of a coalition. This allowed all rebels, including ISIL, to go back to fighting Syrian government forces. That has led to a growing number of setbacks for the government. This includes loss of absolute control of 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 where the rebels are retaking areas they lost earlier in 2014 to government forces. The government is having similar problems around Damascus and throughout central Syria. These reverses are in part because pro-al Qaeda al Nusra and ISIL (condemned by al Qaeda) gave agreed to stop fighting each other so they can concentrate on secular rebels, Kurds and Assad forces.
Those apparently conflicting descriptions make the war beyond recognition.
That "continuous Assad controlled area" is not free of Assad's foes. I've long said this was likely as Assad finally defeated rebels who held territory for so long.
And I believed trying to capture Aleppo was an error.
Even if the situation in west-central Syria is unclear, as the Strategypage post indicates to me, it is at least clear that Assad is not succeeding in the north, south, and east.
And it is clear that rebels we would prefer to win are not strong enough to survive against the jihadis with the level of support we are giving them.
Whether Assad's people can endure many more casualties just to hold what they have--let alone mount offensives to regain Syria's legally defined territory--is a question that I think is most important.
UPDATE: If Assad was winning, he wouldn't be talking peace:
President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday met a top Russian envoy who said Moscow is hoping to relaunch peace talks for the war-torn country and could host a Syria-US meeting.
After meeting Assad, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying, for the first time, that he "was in contact with our American partners."
And our good friends, the Russians are involved.
Clearly, Assad hopes to divide his enemies to make it more likely that he has a seat when the music stops.