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Syria: why Assad may yet claim victory

Published: January 8, 2013
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Source: London Guardian

Reacting angrily to President Bashar al-Assad’s speech on Sunday calling for an end to the rebellion, the US state department said the Syrian leader was “detached from reality”. But much the same might be said of the US and of Assad’s other western and Arab foes, and with greater justification. After two years of bloody attrition, the unpalatable truth is Assad is still in power, shows no sign of heeding demands to quit and is far from beaten. The evolving reality is that Assad may yet see off his many enemies and claim victory in Syria’s civil war.

Explanations for this remarkable feat of survival lie not with Assad’s personal abilities, which are limited, nor with the durability of his domestic supporters, who are in the minority, nor with the president’s ruthlessness in prosecuting the military campaign. More potent has been his subtler achievement in convincing would-be western interventionists that awful though he is, what might follow him would almost certainly be worse. When leading Washington commentators such as David Ignatius start talking up a “truth and reconciliation” process, you kind of know the battle is lost.

This process of geopolitical re-education – it might be termed psychological counter-insurgency – has been gradual but highly effective. One powerful aspect is the highlighting of the growing role of Islamist fundamentalists inside Syria, whom Assad regularly decries as foreign terrorists threatening the Syrian nation. This jihadi “scare factor” is rooted in last February’s video message by the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he called on pious Muslims, primarily Sunnis living in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, to help destroy the Syrian regime.

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