By Mustafa Harrington
If bets were to be waged on the winner of the Syrian conflict, you can expect a large pay out if you put your money on the rebels as the odds seem to be stacked against them at this point. One does not need to be an analyst of the conflict or even a consistent follower of Syrian news to get a sense of the perceived winners and losers. It seems that many around the world see the end of the war as a foregone conclusion.
Take a look at recent headlines from some of the most popular media outlets:
1) “How Assad is Winning” nybooks.com
2) “How Bashar al-Assad Won the War in Syria” The National Interest
3) “Victory for Assad looks increasingly likely as world loses interest in Syria” The Guardian
4) “After Six Years, Assad now secure but his country carved up as a war thunders” Reuters
5) “For Bashar al-Assad, Winning the Syrian War May Lead to New Troubles” NY Times
They do not declare the fight to be over and wrap the championship belt around Assad’s waist but they clearly insinuate that his victory is close at hand. While it is generally perceived that Assad’s main opponents only control the city of Idlib, the truth is that rebel forces control large swathes of territory in Idlib, Aleppo countryside, Homs, Hama, Latakiya, and Damascus. This, of course, does not include territories under ISIS control as that is a different story.
After having said that, rebel forces have been on the back foot since the Russian intervention roughly 2 years ago. As a result of not having a suitable answer for Russia’s aerial supremacy, rebel forces lost control of eastern Aleppo last December and were unable to hold onto their gains in their bid to take control of Hama city earlier this year.
Bashar al-Assad has become a figure that symbolizes tyranny, dictatorship, brutality, and the list goes on. However, while Assad does have a small group of fan boys cheering him on (and supporting him) it is unlikely they will be penning the history books. Even his most ardent supporters are, like everyone else, well aware of his evildoing. However, their interests trumped their morality. No one is planning any celebrations for Assad out of love or respect, after all they left him there as a punching bag so they could reach their respective interests.
After seven ugly years of war, Assad actually controls little on the Syrian ground. That is the reality. His loyalists might show an executive order from Assad instructing the traffic department on parking tickets and trumpet that to mean that he is a “hands on” president. Actually, that is not the presidency he was fighting for at all. In essence, everything he fought and killed for is gone. His country’s independence, sovereignty, and precious executive powers he once wielded have all but been handed over to his Russian and Iranian handlers. Since it was his “allies” who actually usurped his power, he cannot even fight to get it back. It is more out of reach than what was taken away from him by rebel forces.
To be fair, Assad does have a long list of accomplishments amongst his people to point to. He has managed to make himself the main character in a plethora of cartoons symbolizing a mass murderer. He also managed to earn not only the title “President” but in addition to that, he is widely known and referred to as “Todays Hitler”, a feat which no leader has been able to accomplish since the second world war.
Assad’s remembrance in the hearts and minds of the Syrian people goes much deeper than that. He is remembered every morning when a mother wakes up to an empty child’s room that never came home after a barrel bomb landed on his school or playground. He is remembered every time an amputee is reminded of his lost limb as he struggles to complete the basic task of putting on a pair of trousers or a shirt because of an indiscriminate airstrike that flattened his home. Assad’s name is mentioned in the heart of the Syrian who looks around and feels alone in a foreign land, surrounded by refugee tents, after being forced out of his home because of the horrific and endless bombardment from the “brave Syrian Arab Army”. President Assad’s name is forever enshrined in the memory of mothers when their orphan children ask about their missing fathers whereabouts . The name Bashar al Assad is invoked when displaced residents stroll through their former neighborhoods of birth wiping away tears as they climb over the rubble of destroyed homes and mosques. It is unlikely that Assad’s name is forgotten when rain pours into the tents of displaced refugees. Lastly and most importantly, he is remembered every time someone raises their hands to God with tears streaming down their faces begging for retribution.
Is this victory? If it is, then it certainly comes in a strange package.