by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR
Syria has suffered like few countries in the world. Although it lived with minimal conflict for many years, its leader, Bashar al-Assad, maintained order through intimidation and terror. When peaceful demonstrators challenged his dictatorial rule, they were attacked, killed, or put in prison. What started as a civil war has become internationalized with the presence of the so-called Islamic State group and its opponents joining the fray.
Assad has spared no weapon in putting down resistance, whether it be chemical weapons, barrel bombs, artillery bombardments or snipers. The United Nations estimates that 220,000 have died in the war. There are disputes over what percentage of the dead are civilian, but they are certainly significant.
Assad wants to paint all of his opponents as terrorists or Islamic State supporters, but his opponents also include thousands of people fed up with his regime. His military strategy is to go after the weaker, non-Islamic State opponents while avoiding the Islamic State fighters. His purpose is to eliminate the non-Islamic State forces while leaving the anti-Islamic State coalition to degrade and push back the Islamic State. His endgame is to present himself as the only alternative to the Islamic State after he has destroyed his other opponents…