What’s next for Syria’s Assad?

The tide of global rage against the Islamic State group lends greater urgency to ending the jihadists’ ability to operate at will from a base in war-torn Syria. That momentum could also force a re-evaluation of what to do about President Bashar Assad and puts a renewed focus on the position of his key patrons, Russia and Iran.

The Syrian leader has lost much of the country to the IS and other groups in the four-year war; half the population has been displaced, many areas have been levelled, and masses of refugees are flooding Europe.

Along the way, Assad’s brutal military response has made him persona non grata in most of the world.

‘Deal with Assad, the lesser evil’

Portraying himself as the only viable alternative to jihadist rule, Assad has labelled all his enemies “terrorists”, a designation that, in the wake of the recent attacks on civilians by IS, may find greater resonance. Cutting a deal with Mr. Assad would be the “lesser evil”, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said on Wednesday.

Britain’s former military chief, Gen. David Richards, echoed that sentiment, saying in a BBC interview that a ceasefire in Syria could allow Assad and his military to take a leading role in battling IS.

The fact remains, though, that the U.S. and its allies don’t want to see Assad benefit from any effort to dislodge IS from territory it controls in Syria unlike in Iraq.

A temporary reprieve is starting to seem more possible, setting the stage for what some observers suggest may be an arrangement in which Assad is part of a transition government that has a role in the priority of defeating ISIS but then quietly makes way.

Engineering a solution

Russia and Iran would have to be a big part of engineering such a solution.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert, isn’t so sure Russia and Iran are prepared to see Assad go. Iran and Russia “can’t separate the Assad family from this regime. The regime has been built around loyalty to the Assads. If you get rid of them, everything collapses.” — AP

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