Where do Syria and Assad go from here?

The war in Syria has been drawing to a slow, violent end for almost two years now. Since Russia started to increase its military support for the Assad regime in September 2015, there has almost been an inevitability that the government forces would hold out and eventually reclaim most of the country. This was accentuated by the deafening silence from most Western nations as rebel held Eastern Aleppo was levelled by the Russian air force. To the ‘moderate’ rebels groups, that had previously been backed by the US, it was a clear signal that they would have to win this war on their own.

That was never going to happen. Syrian forces have continued to retake large swathes of the country. There have been setbacks along the way, the Islamic State retook Palmyra in December 2016 nine months after it had been re-taken by the Syrian army. These setbacks did not fundamentally impact the direction of the war however, fading resistance in the face of a massive Russian/Iranian backed onslaught. The breaking of Islamic State’s siege of Deir Ez-Zor last week is the latest victory in the Syrian War endgame.

Syria was one battleground of a wider struggle for supremacy in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While this was not the immediate cause of the war, it evolved into this as more parties became involved. What became clearer as the war ensued was that Iran, and its allies Hezbollah and the Iraqi government, were willing to commit more military support than the rebel’s backers in Turkey and the Gulf.

If we assume that this trend won’t be reversed, where does Syria and the Assad regime go from here? Large parts of the country are in ruins. According to  Human Rights Watch, by February 2016 470,000 people had been killed, 6.1 million displaced internally and 4.8 million Syrian refugees abroad. This is devastation on an almost unprecedented scale in modern times.

Atrocities have been committed by all sides. This is not a defence of Bashir al-Assad and the Syrian government. According to the United Nations, the government have committed multiple war crimes. The question I want to raise is what options are open to the government now. Can Syria come back into the fold and reclaim legitimacy in the West or is destined to be a devastated, war-torn pariah state for the next decade?

Syria doesn’t have the benefit of major oil reserves. It will struggle to attract the financial support necessary to rebuild most of the infrastructure that has been destroyed. The fact that there hasn’t been a regime change, immediately makes this a different case to the other devastated nation we’e seen in the last two decades like Afghanistan, Iraq and to a lesser extent, Libya.

The Western world is still some time away from re-recognizing the legitimacy of the Assad government. Syria’s key allies are not in a position to offer the financial support required, particularly as they are involved in their own domestic and international struggles. Russia is a longtime ally of Syria and their use of the Mediterranean port of Tartous was a major incentive for their increased military involvement mentioned above. However the sanctions imposed on Russia have taken their toll.

There is the potential for China to lead the rebuilding of the country. Throughout the war China has been quite muted in its criticism of the Syrian regime. It has almost vetoed as many UN resolutions against Syria as Russia has. In recent times China has made many new allies across the developing world, particularly in Africa, by funding huge infrastructure projects without making political demands from the reciprocants.

The Syrian government could also try and endear itself to the more right wing political parties in Europe by offering to take back Syrian refugees in exchange for funding. While the feasibility of this may be negligible it could be a smart PR move. In fact, there has been a noticeable decline in criticism in Europe of the regime as the number of Islamic State inspired attacks have increased across the continent. Each atrocity has helped the regime drive the narrative that ‘we are fighting the same terrorists together’.

Ultimately it has been a terrible seven years for the Syrian people. There can be no excuse for the atrocities committed by the Syrian government. If we assume that their victory in the Syrian War is now a fait accompli , the future direction of Syria could be an interesting measure of how far the US has retreated in its supremacy of the Middle East as it tries to continue its Pacific pivot. If this is the case the question is who will fill this vacuum? Will Syria be able to leverage this strategic battle or continue to be an unfortunate pawn in this modern version of the Great Game?

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  • This is a piece of the purest hack pro-American propaganda by lostleft Geeney.
    The slaughter instigated and propagated by Washington from Afghanistan to Syria, from Yemen to Libya, from Iraq, and Iran, to Somalia apparently is of no consequence to the ‘voraciously political’ Geeney, and his utter drivel.
    May I suggest this piece, one of many,
    by Bill van Auken, on the US abd Syria:
    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/04/syri-a04.html

  • Neiltoo

    Pro- American? Really? By my reading the USA is mentioned twice, both times in reference to its retreat from engagement in the area.
    Are you not attacking the author rather than the article?

  • America is the author of the slaughter in Syria. In hiding this he patently takes the pro-Imperialist line.
    A deafening silence while the Russians “levelled” Aleppo, he claims. Really, this is a blatant lie. The Western media and press subjected us to an unremitting barrage of anti-Syrian and anti-Russian poison with refeence to the re-takibg of Aleppo.
    If Geeney decides to suppott and promote the line of Washington then he will be subject to rebuttal.
    Or are you suggesting one cannot question his politics?
    Bill van Auken’s article is most interesting. I will link it again:
    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/04/syri-a04.html

  • Neiltoo

    I read the article the first time you posted the link and while interesting it adds little to a discussion on ‘Where do Syria and Assad go from here?’

    America is the author of the slaughter in Syria. In hiding this he patently takes the pro-Imperialist line.

    The USA may or may not be the author of the slaughter but his failure to mention what is clearly your favourite annoyance is not the same as hiding it.

  • I beg to differ.
    Failing to mention, as you put it, is the same as hiding it.
    Andit is mire than that. The focus by Geeney is on the Russian intervention and the Syrian goverment.
    Consider the catastrophe imposed on the Syrian people by Washingtons barbarous assault. These are not matters of debate as entertainment or diversion. This is life and death at the hand of butchers.
    And, there is no “may or may not be” concerning Washington and the CIA.
    I t is telling your belittling of the role of imperialism as “my favourite annoyance”.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Yellow card warning. You can debate your point but play the ball not the man. https://sluggerotoole.com/re/comments-policy/

  • Neiltoo

    I thought the focus of the article was on what happens next. Your focus seems to be on blaming the US for starting it and taking the author to task for not mentioning that.
    I have no idea what you mean when you say the ‘role of imperialism’ but if you take a usual definition of imperialism i.e “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means.” then most countries have, or have tried to be, imperial at some point in time.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    There has certainly been a ‘ deafening silence’ from the BBC about what has been happening in Aleppo since it was retaken.

  • In what way have I “played the man”?
    And this is debate, not football.
    It is part of debate to vigorously defend one’s position.
    So, if someone is in my view a proponent of the lies of the most reactionary and vile oppressors I am not to state my view?
    Decorum of a certain sort works only to shield the crimes of the rulers. I’m thick skinned. I see a calling of my views as “my favourite annoyance” for what it is. As I said above. Such diversionary tactics do not wound me. The massacre of innocent millions does.

  • A Bit Left and a Bit Lost

    When I wrote it I was hoping for some debate and differing perspectives on where Syria goes from here

  • Salmondnet

    Now there writes an optimist. Bashing US imperialism is so much more satisfying. Not quite sure why. The world in general, western countries in particular, and Ireland more than most, have ample reason to be thankful for the relatively benign form of imperialism practised by the United States.( despite the occasions when they make spectacular misjudgements). No good deed must ever goes unpunished.

  • Erewhon888

    While considering the questions posed in this piece, there is a useful perspective given by the “co-leader” of Hezbollah in an interview with RT a short time ago. https://www.rt.com/shows/rt-interview/402154-syria-israel-conflict-hezbollah/
    The US/Saudi/Jordanian and Israel roles in the creation, funding, training and nurturing of ISIL/ISIS/Daesh are touched on briefly but the more useful insights are in the area of future alliances as the US is forced to alter its former strategy having failed (in Hezbollah’s view) to control the monster they created.

  • Erewhon888

    “America’s brutal air campaign appears unhinged from any coherent long-term strategy. No one in charge seems to have the faintest clue what exactly will follow ISIS’s rule in eastern Syria”
    So says Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/when-it-comes-to-the-war-in-the-greater-middle-east-maybe-were-the-bad-guys_us_59b1668ee4b0b5e531045248?section=us_us-news

    Perhaps there are others gradually educating themselves on the bigger picture and the unseen players.

  • Abdallah

    While the article does well to consider the international recognition needed to sustain the regime, especially potential support from china, it fails to address the questions for the actual humans at the center of this disaster. An astronomical number of refugees and victims. Everyone knows someone affected. What’s next for assad is also and perhaps more so a question of what will the reconciliation efforts and amnisties look like and whether the entire population will be able to morally accept the regime or will they have to live under a stricter dictatorship. Will they be able to survive the coming years? How will corruption which has been a staple in post war rebuilding efforts affect all this and what can be done to control it?

  • Steven Denny

    PV Nevin, I agree with you. Nobody had even heard of Syria 10 yrs ago – a relatively stable government for the region and was actually an fully supporting ally as part of the Kuwait campaign etc… So what went wrong… the US and their foreign policy of regime change. They are disgrace, to the extent that they (Bush, Cheeney, Rumsfeld, Obama, Clinton) should all be charged with genocide.