In March 2018, the Syrian conflict entered its eighth year since it broke out in 2011 following protests against the continued rule of the Assad family, which has been in power for over four decades. This paper discusses the future of President Assad’s regime and Syria. This topic is important because the Syrian conflict has been protracted for a long and Syrians continue to suffer in a war that has divided the international community and affected affairs on a global scale.
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Having peace in Syria will play an important role in the creation of stability of the larger Middle East region, which has been facing conflicts for many decades. From the research conducted in this paper, it is clear that the future of Assad’s regime is secure, but that of Syria, as a country, is doomed. This paper will have four major sections. The first one will involve giving the background context of the Syrian war to highlight how the conflict started and its progress so far.
The second section will be a literature review discussing how the Syrian conflict has been addressed based on what is recorded in academic literature and ongoing policy debates. The third section will be an analysis of the issue to present major research findings to support the thesis that the future of Assad’s regime is secure, but that of Syria, as a country, is uncertain. The last section will be a conclusion to highlight the major findings and their implications for different disciplines.
In 2011, different uprisings in Africa and the Middle East were witnessed in what came to be known as the Arab Spring. During the uprisings, the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents were toppled, and this aspect reinvigorated Syrian pro-democracy activists, who started peaceful protests in March 2011 (Gadalla, 2018). The protestors were decrying the current regime’s capriciousness together with the greed shown by the ruling families and security forces because they control income sources across the country.
Additionally, the protestors argued that the time had come for the democratic space in Syria to grow and have people elect their leaders of choice. However, President Assad could not tolerate the uprising, and in response, he killed hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoned thousands more. In July 2011, some individuals defected from the military to form the Free Syrian Army as the bonafide rebel group seeking to overthrow the government (Rath, 2017). Eventually, Syria slid into a civil war, and international players were drawn into the conflict. President Assad received support from Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On the other hand, the rebels were supported by countries, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In 2014, the US joined the war by partnering with anti-Assad rebels to target the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Israel has also been engaged in the war in Syria in the context of fighting Hezbollah elements in the country. In September 2015, Russia joined the conflict by targeting what it termed as terrorist groups in Syria including ISIL and anti-Assad supporters (Karlin, 2018).
Despite numerous peace talks and armistice agreements, the conflict has not lessened. President Assad, with the support of Russia, has regained control of most parts of the country. The rebels have scattered with some fleeing the country as President Assad’s troops advance to recapture the remaining parts of the country. With the unfolding of these events, this paper seeks to evaluate the future of Assad’s regime and that of Syria, as a country.
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The Syrian 8-year conflict has been documented extensively both in academic literature and policy write-ups. However, this paper will focus on the literature concerning the future of Assad’s regime and Syria. The current literature does not address directly the future of President Assad’s regime and that of Syria. Therefore, this paper fills this gap in the literature. The future of President Assad’s regime is secure following the regaining control of most parts of the country. The only threat to the regime would have been in the US and its European counterparts escalated armed conflict against the Syrian government. However, the approach to the current situation emphasizes de-escalation as opposed to escalation, which ultimately consolidates President Assad’s power.
According to Humund, Blanchard, and Nikitin (2018), in 2017, the US entered a new phase regarding its approach to the Syrian conflict by focusing on “de-escalating violence overall in Syria through a combination of ceasefires and de-escalation areas” (p. 2). However, as mentioned earlier, President Assad has recaptured key rebel-held and de-escalation regions in the country, and thus he may not be willing to agree to a ceasefire or political dialogue. Besides, in October 2017, the US-backed forces have recaptured Raqqah, which was ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital and other important regions under the terrorist group.
With the resurgence of Assad’s government and the diminishing threat from ISIL, the future of the current regime is secure. Ciro Martínez and Eng (2018) support the claims that President Assad’s future, as the ruler of Syria, is secure because it suffers no immediate existentialist threat. Currently, President Assad enjoys all the support that he needs from Russia, Iran, and Iraq, and without the rebels getting proportionate backing from their allies, such as the US and Turkey, the current regime is likely to overcome any threats from the insurgents. Ciro Martínez and Eng (2018) argue that the current regime’s aerial bombing campaigns targeting rebel-held regions are calculated strategies to destroy any threat to its authority.
Allison (2013) discusses the different reasons why Russia has continued to support President Assad and why that relationship is expected to thrive into the future. Russia has a long-standing distaste for Western-led military interventions in countries experiencing conflict. President Putin criticized the manner in which the US invaded and ousted President Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, and thus he is not willing to let the same happen to President Assad of Syria.
According to Allison (2013), “The Russian foreign ministry’s foreign policy concept, published in February 2013, scorned ideas that are being implemented … aimed at overthrowing legitimate authorities in sovereign states under the pretext of protecting the civilian population” (p. 766). Therefore, President Assad is likely to continue enjoying support from his Russian counterpart. Rath (2017) contends that President Assad is unlikely to quit Syrian politics any time soon given the current conflict. While lasting peace may not be realized with President Assad in the picture, any successful transition cannot be realized without the current regime’s involvement.
However, the current regime does not exist without President Assad. Therefore, the future of Syria is indirectly linked to the active participation of the current regime. Rath (2017) argues that the federalization of Syria together with the establishment of a federally structured government is the only viable solution to lasting peace in the country.
Karlin (2018) admits that after eight years of conflict in Syria, President Assad seems to have won the war. Conflict is expected to continue into the future; however, President Assad will remain in power. Karlin (2018) likens the Syrian conflict to that of Lebanon, which lasted for over 15 years due to diverse interests from the different involved parties. Karlin (2018) claims that the Involvement of Russia in the Syrian conflict complicates matters as the Putin administration seeks to advance its influence in the region. Iran is also interested in the Syrian conflict as it seeks to use Hezbollah to project its power in the Middle East.
However, while the future of Assad’s regime seems secure, the available literature shows that Syria, as a country, is doomed in many aspects. According to Gadalla (2018), the conflict in Syria is expected to spill over in the next decade. Russia is expected to continue supporting the current Syrian regime, which means that rebuilding the country will be hindered. According to Humund et al. (2018), the US has expressed its unwillingness to support the reconstruction process of areas under the control of President Assad.
Other western countries have held the same stance that they can only help to rebuild Syria after the current president steps down to allow a democratic process to take place. Additionally, Syria has suffered major physical and human resources losses that will take time to rebuild. According to a report released by The World Bank (2017), by the end of 2017, Syria had suffered losses of at least 250 billion dollars due to the damages caused by the way.
Additionally, the human capital, which is needed for the redevelopment of the country, has been destroyed in thousands. The World Bank (2017) estimates that the war has claimed almost 500,000 lives, 6.5 million individuals have been displaced internally, and 5.5 million Syrians have fled to other countries. As such, the dead, displaced, and Syrian refugees amount to over half of the country’s population based on the 2010 census. The total economic losses will ultimately be greater than the direct damages caused by the conflict itself (The World Bank, 2017). These figures are unfavorable for the economic reconstruction and development of the country.
Seven reference sources were used to conduct research on this topic. The available literature does not directly state the future of President Assad and Syria. Therefore, this current research fills this gap by stating that the future of President Assad’s regime is secure, but Syria, as a country, is doomed. The research conducted supports this thesis statement by providing veritable information on how the Syrian conflict is expected to unravel moving into the future. The following sections present the research findings to support the thesis statement.
The Future of President Assad’s Regime
The future of President Assad’s current regime is secure due to the involvement of Russia and other allies. As mentioned in the literature review, Russia has numerous reasons to continue supporting President Assad, which effectively secures the future of the current regime. First, Russia resents western-backed military intervention in Syria and any other place facing conflicts (Allison, 2013). As such, President Putin has vowed to continue supporting the current Syrian regime. Additionally, Gadalla (2018) says, “From the outset, the Russian air campaign primarily hit non-ISIS targets…It soon became clear that Putin’s chief goal was to ensure the future of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator” (par. 4).
Therefore, President Assad is here to stay because of the strong support that he receives from allies, such as Russia and Iran. Besides, Russia is likely to stay in Syria as it seeks to entrench its influence in the region. On the other hand, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group has been supporting President Assad’s regime, which has consolidated his power as the ultimate ruler. Therefore, based on the hard stance by Russia and other allies on the Syrian issue, it is clear that Putin’s administration will continue to support President Assad, which secures the future of the current regime.
President Assad’s regime’s future is secure after winning key regions hitherto controlled by rebels. By the end of May 2017, Russian and President Assad’s troops had recaptured the region of Homs and other towns that the rebels had taken control of earlier in the year. Besides, the troops regained control of Daraa, the southern Syrian city where the uprisings started in 2011, thus asserting the strength and influence of the current regime. Currently, President Assad is controlling over 70 percent of the country, and he continues to wage war in a bid to capture other cities under the command of the rebels, such as Idlib and a few others. With this kind of control, it suffices to say that President Assad’s future as the ruler of Syria is assured.
Finally, the future of the current Syrian regime is secure due to the change of approach by the US and its western allies concerning the current conflict. When President Donald Trump of the US assumed office in 2017, the country’s approach towards the Syrian conflict changed dramatically (Humund et al., 2018). Together with Britain and France, the US resorted to de-escalation efforts to reach an amicable political solution through ceasefires.
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Besides, the US has almost eliminated the threat of ISIL by capturing its capital city, Raqqah. The combination of these events has solidified President Assad’s resolve to remain in power moving into the future. Earlier, President Assad had agreed to a ceasefire, but with the resurgence of his regime, the latest Geneva talks of December 2017 failed with each side accusing the other of the unwillingness to cooperate. President Assad’s representatives held that he must play a central role in the transition process, but the opposition could not agree. However, President Assad is only using excuses to leave the negotiation table and remain in power because currently, his regime does not face an existential threat.
Besides, President Assad has been receiving unparalleled support from Russia, but the US has not been offering proportionate backing to the rebels. This explains why Assad has managed to regain control of over 70 percent of the country. The US and the west have continually argued that a ceasefire should be reached and a transition government put in place. However, as Rath (2017) notes, this process requires the active participation of President Assad. Therefore, Assad’s future is secure because the current chaotic environment favors his continued ruling as the bonafide president of Syria.
The Future of Syria
The future of Syria is doomed due to the collapse of the economy and the lack of consensus on how to rebuild it. The estimated 250 billion dollars in losses that the country has suffered is a huge blow to the economy (The World Bank, 2017). Additionally, the US and other allies have stated categorically that they can only help in the reconstruction process of President Assad’s steps aside for the formation of a transition government.
However, President Assad has remained adamant that he has to play a central role in the transition process. Consequently, the prospects of rebuilding the country with the two sides taking hard stances are poor. Based on the current scenario, President Assad is unlikely to step aside in the near future, which means the country will continue experiencing conflicts, thus condemning it to economic oblivion. This stance means that the US and other international players are unwilling to contribute meaningfully to the reconstruction of the country. Without the much-needed help from the US, Syria will not be in a position to rise from the devastating effects of the 8-year long civil war.
The future of Syria is also uncertain given the refugee crisis being experienced in the country. With almost half of the country’s population affected through death, internal displacement, or fleeing to the neighboring countries (The World Bank, 2017), Syria does not have the much-needed human resources to rebuild its economy and institutions ravaged by war. As the war intensified, the majority of the Syrian middle class fled to Europe.
Most of the refugees are unwilling to return to Syria even if a ceasefire is reached. The remaining people in the country continue to suffer from stagnated salaries, abuse, imprisonments, entrenched mistrust of the ruling regime. Therefore, the future of Syria, as a country, is not promising especially without the requisite human resources to help rebuild the economy.
Politically, the future of Syria is also bleak because Assad is poised to continue ruling to extend his family’s four-decade rule and the rebels are expected to persist with their quest for a democratic country (Ciro Martínez & Eng, 2018). In essence, while the rebels have been driven out of their strongholds, the reasons why the protests started in 2011 have not been addressed. Wealth and power are in the hands of the few ruling families, which continue to enjoy the monopoly of income sources.
The situation would have changed with President Assad out of the picture. However, as reiterated throughout this paper, he is here to stay, at least in the near future. Without the prospects of national reconciliation and the continued abortion of peace talks, due to Assad’s willingness to relinquish power, the future of Syria is not promising. Chaos and subjugation are expected to be the defining characteristics of the future of Syria, as a country.
From this research paper, it has become clear that the future of President Assad’s regime is secure. Russia and Iran continue to play a key role to ensure that President Assad remains in power. The US and its allies in the West have changed their approach to the conflict to focus on de-escalation, which works for the benefit of the incumbent president. On the other hand, the future of Syria is uncertain. Escalated chaos and entrenched animosity are likely to define the ideal future Syrian society.
These findings will impact different audiences including policymakers and academicians. Policymakers will start looking at the Syrian conflict from a long-term perspective. Academicians will understand the different reasons why Assad may rule Syria for the next decade. Ultimately, the future of Syria remains uncertain, and thus future studies should focus on evidence-based strategies that could be employed to restore peace and stability in the region to avert the protracted suffering of the Syrians.
Allison, R. (2013). Russia and Syria: Explaining alignment with a regime in crisis. International Affairs, 89(4), 795-823.
Ciro Martínez, J., & Eng, B. (2018). Stifling stateness: The Assad regime’s campaign against rebel governance. Security Dialogue, 49(4), 235-253.
Gadalla, P. (2018). Seven years of Syria’s civil war: What Brookings experts are saying. Web.
Humund, C. E., Blanchard, C. M., & Nikitin, M. B. (2018). Armed conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. response. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.
Karlin, M. (2018). After 7 years of war, Assad has won in Syria. What’s next for Washington? Web.
Rath, S. K. (2017). Searching a political solution for Syria. India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, 73(2), 180-195.
The World Bank. (2017). The toll of war: The economic and social consequences of the conflict in Syria. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.