President Obama’s crippling passivity in dealing with the Syrian civil war seems to be explained, at least in part, by a widespread expectation in and out of the administration that Bashar Assad is finished no matter what the U.S. does or doesn’t do–that it’s “only a matter of time” before he is toppled.
I still think that is the most likely outcome, but it is worrisome to see that Assad’s forces have succeeded in breaking the rebel siege of two of his northern military bases in a part of the country that has been largely seized by the insurgents. The New York Times quotes a resident of the northern town of Idlib: “To be honest, after seeing the army’s operation today, there is a widespread fear among people that regime forces will soon regain control of other areas in the province.”
Such sentiment may be premature–or it may not be. Assad has shown worrisome staying power, thanks in large part to the aid he has received from Iran. The rebels have gotten some assistance from the Gulf states, but not enough to balance out the Iranian role. The U.S. has preferred to sit largely on the sidelines, forcing, in effect, many of our allies who favor taking a more active stance to do the same.
It would be a tragedy if, in addition to prolonging the war and increasing the suffering, America’s passivity were to allow Assad to remain in power. This would be a victory for Iran and Hezbollah and a blow to the U.S. and our interests and allies in the region. It is not too late to prevent such a dire outcome, but Obama must be willing to do more than he has done hitherto–namely, providing arms to the rebels and imposing a no-fly zone to ground Assad’s murderous air force.