Civil wars are easy to predict. The result is easy to glean well before they come to an end. Whether it was the American Civil War where Jefferson Davis did not doubt that he would lose the war after Atlanta fell, or in the 2011 Libyan case where Muammar Gaddhafi was fighting a lost cause after the NATO intervened, this has been true in most instances.
Following that long line of examples, is Bashar Assad of Syria. A civil war that began with the Arab Spring, the Syrian case is not quite different when compared with the instances that history has to offer in example. As determined as a leader maybe, it is no necessary indication that he will win a civil war. That Assad will not emerge victor, no matter how long drawn the war maybe, is clear. And it isn’t just now: this was clear as early as in February 2011.
And yet, why does he continue to fight?
Primarily, because this is no negotiation table he can get his way out of. Negotiated peace is a good idea on paper, in that it offers the members of the Free Syrian Army a certain amount of power in exchange for peace. This has been manifested in many instances – from Nicaragua to Cambodia. But, in the Syrian case, a state of negotiated peace is not tenable in the eyes of both, Assad and the FSA. For the former, any offer of power-sharing is a dent in his administrative prowess and a decisive defeat. Agreeing for a power-sharing regime would result in his relegation to a minority position. But, for the latter mere power-sharing would not be enough as demands will mount for Assad’s exit. There is also the pressing concern that Sunnis and Christians would not necessarily see eye to eye on power-sharing.
Assad has two choices: ceding power and living in exile, or, fighting tooth and nail right to the finish. Dictators have ceded power when defeat loomed large – but, Assad doesn’t have the luxury of making that choice because a safe exile is not an option open to him – especially since it leaves him vulnerable to prosecution at the hands of the ICC. Having signed the Rome Statute, he has agreed to an international treaty that allows him to be prosecuted if he engages in crimes against humanity – which, as the world knows, he has done. That Assad can be prosecuted for war crimes is not news.
With this, it seems clear that Assad will continue fighting, in the hope of defeating the rebels. It seems clear that Assad will hope for continued support from Iran and Russia.
And that’s where he is wrong. The international community’s continued economic sanctions, coupled with a continued state of war will erode his regime.