Monday, July 09, 2018

Assad Destroyed Syria to Save It

Assad survived the rebellion by encouraging jihadis to dominate the then-non-sectarian rebellion, thus alienating the West from the Islamist-dominated rebels and inspiring fear among Syria's non-Sunnis to stand by Assad. That strategy has apparently worked on the battlefield. But what did that do to Syria?

A NEW Syria is emerging from the rubble of war. ...

Homs, like all of the cities recaptured by the government, now belongs mostly to Syria’s victorious minorities: Christians, Shias and Alawites (an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam from which Mr Assad hails). These groups banded together against the rebels, who are nearly all Sunni, and chased them out of the cities. Sunni civilians, once a large majority, followed. More than half of the country’s population of 22m has been displaced—6.5m inside Syria and over 6m abroad. Most are Sunnis.

Assad is determined to keep out the Sunnis who fled his brutal war of killing and blasting from areas regained by Assad. He is turning over the property of Sunnis who fled the fighting to his backers.

And overall Assad is content to rely on his minority supporters now without regard to the Sunnis:

The country’s chief mufti is a Sunni, but there are fewer Sunnis serving in top posts since the revolution. Last summer Mr Assad replaced the Sunni speaker of parliament with a Christian. In January he broke with tradition by appointing an Alawite, instead of a Sunni, as defence minister.

And many of those left are crippled, psychologically scarred, and lacking men who died or fled.

Assad is mostly in control of "useful" Syria, the formulation of the former French colonial rulers, according to the article.

I was unaware of that but it matches closely my description of "core Syria" that I thought Assad had the power to control (with a fall back "rump Syria" centered on the coastal enclave, if Damascus could not be held).

But (and back to the first link), however much better it is for him than losing the war, Assad has won the wreckage of his country:

Mr Assad (pictured) has been winning the war by garrisoning city centres, then shooting outward into rebel-held suburbs. On the highway from Damascus to Aleppo, towns and villages lie desolate. A new stratum of dead cities has joined the ones from Roman times. The regime has neither the money nor the manpower to rebuild. Before the war Syria’s economic growth approached double digits and annual GDP was $60bn. Now the economy is shrinking; GDP was $12bn last year. Estimates of the cost of reconstruction run to $250bn.

And the heart of his military might is Iranian-supplied shock troops and Russian air and logistics support. It isn't clear how many actual Syrians are still fighting for Assad.

Nor am I sure how much of the remnant Syrian military is functionally controlled by Assad.

So despite the worries of pro-Assad Syrians that defeating the Sunni rebels might just allow Iran to control Syria, Assad cannot survive without the 80,000 troops that Iran pays for and controls.

Heck, if victory was achieved tomorrow, could Assad survive the peace after the sacrifice his supporters endured in the bloody, costly victory?

Yet allowing Iran to control Syria with the dominant military force in the country could create a whole new war for Assad with Syria as the battlefield rather than an actor.

Which might be Assad's best option for surviving as the ruler of what is left of Syria.

UPDATE: Strategypage looks at Syria.

The Sunnis may be broken as a threat to Assad for a generation or more. But I would not rule out the victors being a threat to Assad for the price those backers had to pay--in lives, money, and sovereignty lost to Iran--to keep Assad behind the big desk.