With recent events in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad seems to have pulled off two coups. In November, NBC’s Richard Engel described the more obvious of the two.
In exchange for destroying the poison gas and the factories that make it — a process that’s almost impossible to verify — there would be no U.S. military strike. Assad would get to stay in power and continue his war with “conventional weapons,” including artillery and Scud missile attacks on civilian areas, napalm dropped on schools, and starving the opposition into submission. Even more shocking is that Assad has weathered the crisis appearing to the world as reasonable, rational and ready to compromise.
I’m not entirely convinced that I buy the other coup, though. See what you think of the explanation by Annia Ciezadlo in the New Republic and respond in the comments section to this post. Miss Ciezadlo writes of Assad (emphasis added):
Calmly and deliberately, he has painted a picture that in the beginning was not completely accurate: The demonstrators, he said, were jihadists who would bring Afghanistan-type chaos to the country. Then he sat back and waited for it to become true. … And if a series of well-timed massacres by the regime would provoke outrage in the West, Assad also knew that images of carnage would cause Gulf states to arm the Islamist opposition and escalate the sectarian warfare. This was his strategy: to make intervention so unpalatable that the international community would take no steps to alter the course of the conflict. “These jihadists who have come in, largely courtesy of private Gulf money, these are his enemies of choice,” says Frederic C. Hof, the Obama administration’s former envoy to the Syrian opposition and currently a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
In other words the Gulf states thought they saw a void into which they could insert Islamist militants. In fact, though, as opposed to defeating Assad, they not only ensured that the West wouldn’t be coming to help depose him, but freed him to use his might against the Islamic militants, to whose aid the West, obviously, had no interest in coming.