When president Bashaar al Assad delivered his latest speech last Sunday, his first since last June, the world listened with expectations and anticipation. For those who thought that Assad would give some concessions to the opposition, or offer a some kind of political compromise, he appeared more defiant than compromising.
In his speech Assad did not acknowledge any role for the opposition. Instead, he labeled them as “terrorists” and offered to negotiate only with the Western powers whom he described as the “puppet masters” of the opposition. Assad also outlined his plan for ending the conflict in Syria by appointing a new government and writing a new constitution that will be put through a national referendum without mentioning his own role in this process. This is an indication that he will remain in power no matter what kind of settlement is reached.
Although Assad may have been defiant and projected a clever, albeit false, perception of a man who is confident and actually winning the war, history and reality, however, are running against this assumption no matter how confident and strong Assad made himself appeared to be. The conflict, which started two years ago and claimed the lives of over 60,000 Syrians has transformed itself from opposition groups demanding political reform a to full-blown armed insurgency that will not stop until Assad is toppled from power.
A 2010 study by Washington-based Rand Corporation on armed insurgencies and counterinsurgencies (COIN) showed that the vast majority of COIN operations ended up losing the conflict because of their failure to take several important measures that are critical in winning the war. Those measures include, among others, strategic communication, development, political reform, democracy, civic freedoms that will address the grievances of the insurgency, and the population.
The study titled “Victory has a Thousand Fathers” researched 30 armed insurgencies from around the world such as Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Senegal, Croatia and Burundi. It showed that insurgents won in 22 cases, while government COIN operations won in only 8 of them.
In the case of Turkey for example, which won its COIN war against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the win was made possible only because the Turkish government addressed the Kurdish population demands to have its own political and cultural rights thus depriving the insurgency from its popular support. It also made deals with countries that supported the PKK insurgents. The Turkish government won the war also because it made economic development in Kurdish areas as part of its strategy to win the war against the PKK.
Similarly, the US won its COIN war against the Sunni insurgents in Iraq because it addressed the Sunnis demands and incorporated them in the Iraqi political process.
Conversely, Iraq during Saddam’s era lost its COIN operations against its own Kurds because it used repression and brutal military campaigns that ultimately failed to win its war against the Kurdish Insurgency. Iraq also failed to address the grievances of its Kurdish populations and did not seek a comprehensive political settlement for the conflict. At the end, these factors doomed not only the rule of the previous Iraqi regime but also Iraq itself.
The same is true in the case of Sudan which failed to crush its Southern insurgent movements and relied on military solutions only. Sudan ended up not only losing its war against its southern insurgents, but also lost half of its country.
Similarly, the Syrian regime is using repression and violence to crush the opposition and regularly using its heavy weapons against defenseless population. This strategy will at the end destroy the Assad regime no matter how much violence he uses against either the population or the armed opposition.
Taking into account those historic cases of armed conflicts between regimes and rebel groups it becomes quite clear that Assad is misinformed and ill-advised by the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians who are his only international allies.
Meanwhile, the trajectory of Assad’s past behavior as evident by this speech and by the actions of his armed troops on the ground clearly shows that he is doing everything he can in order to lose the war despite winning some battles.
Assad is not showing any indication that he was interested in winning over the population and offered no plans that have real democratic governance, nor any to rebuild or address the devastation in Syrian cities.
Moreover, he is also losing the public relations and strategic communications very badly. Almost all of the regional and international media outlets project him and his regime as a bloodthirsty dictator who massacred thousands of innocent civilians as millions more fled their homes to become refugees in neighboring countries. Adding to that is the fact that his regime, is besieged by international sanctions, while many countries withdrew its diplomatic recognition of its regime in favor of the opposition. For Assad, the end might not be imminent, but, for sure, history is not on his side.
Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.