When U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Canada and the European Union first issued public calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, the death toll in Syria stood at 2,000. That was in August 18 last year.
When Obama repeated the call on May 19, as host of a summit meeting of the Group of Eight, the body count had reached 10,000, according to United Nations estimates. The two figures highlight the lack of success of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure on a ruthless leader who learned lessons in unrestrained brutality from his father, Hafez al-Assad, whom he succeeded in office.
A peaceful solution to Syria’s protracted crisis now looks remote enough to wonder whether Bashar al-Assad might outlast Obama in power. The U.S. president is not assured of winning another term in office next November. But the odds of the Assad regime surviving into 2013 look better with every passing day, even though one of the U.S. government’s top experts on Syria has labeled the Syrian president a “dead man walking.”
There are several reasons for skepticism about a resolution to the Syrian crisis in the near future. One is the government’s military superiority over fractured and lightly-equipped opposition forces. More importantly, there is no international consensus on how to deal with what began 14 months ago as peaceful demonstrations against a 40-year family dictatorship and now includes huge suicide bombings of government targets that have raised suspicions of al-Qaeda involvement.
At the summit of the G8 – the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Canada and Japan – an aide to Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev made clear, again, that Moscow, unlike the West, does not see Assad’s departure as a necessary step towards ending the bloodshed. “Some may like or dislike the Syrian government…but one cannot avoid a question – if Assad goes, who will replace him?” said Mikhail Margelov.