What Will Assad Do Next?
There is no question that the Syrian army, for all intents and purposes, is a shell of its former self. Thankfully for the Assad regime, the attrition within government forces has been partly addressed through the importation of foreign Shia militias funded by Iran who have served as front-line, pro-government shock troops. Suspending any further ground operations into rebel-controlled territory, preserving his gains in Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus and waiting to see what the next U.S. administration will do on the Syria issue would therefore be Assad’s safest option.
Assad has spoken about President-elect Donald Trump in positive terms. On Russian television, he described Trump as “a natural ally” if he truly is intent on working closer with Russia. And in an interview with RT less than a month later, Assad hinted that if Trump is politically courageous enough to defy the foreign policy establishment in Washington, his government would be a partner of the United States in the counterterrorism effort.
The regime of course doesn’t particularly care whether Trump reaches out or not. What they are cautiously optimistic about is that the new administration in Washington will decrease what is already minimal military assistance to the moderate opposition in favor of closer ties with the Kremlin against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Waiting it out and assessing how the Trump administration will behave — not being overly provocative or brutal in the meantime — is certainly an option.
Whichever path Bashar al-Assad travels, a war that has killed over 500 thousand people, displaced half of Syria’s population, resulted in an influx of refugees into Europe and destabilized the Middle East will continue into the foreseeable future. It just depends on how bloody that continued war will be.
Daniel R. DePetris is an analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., a geostrategic consulting firm, and a freelance researcher. He has also written for CNN.com, Small Wars Journal and The Diplomat.
Image: Vladimir Putin with Bashar al-Assad. Kremlin.ru