Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad Digs in for a Fight to the Death
Even with rebel armies closing in, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is showing no hint of a willingness to cede power, raising the prospect of a long, bloody and potentially calamitous final chapter to the country’s civil war, U.S. officials and Middle East experts say.
As his troops battle rebels in Aleppo and other key cities, Assad has rejected new entreaties to accept exile for himself and his family and has repeatedly expressed confidence that loyalist forces will prevail, the officials and analysts said.
His public and private comments suggest that Assad is preparing to follow the example of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, staking his life on his regime’s survival. A growing consensus in Washington and in Middle East capitals now holds that Assad — a man once viewed as a moderate capable of reform — will be forced from power only by death or capture.
“There will not be any negotiations,” said Jeffrey White, a former senior Middle East analyst for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. “He will go down fighting, and he will probably do it in Damascus.”
Senior U.S. analysts who have studied Assad’s recent public appearances described him as increasingly divorced from reality. While they said Assad is neither stupid nor cowardly, he appears to have bought into his own rhetoric, perceiving himself to be the savior of his ethnic clan, the Alawites, as well as the embodiment of the Syrian state. He also appears unfazed by his pariah status, they say.
“Assad is a self-righteous, conspiracy-minded dictator who’s given no indication so far he’s prepared to go quietly into the night,” said a U.S. official with access to intelligence from inside Syria who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the assessment. “As with many strongmen before him, Assad’s hubris is leading him into some bad decision making.”