I have no idea what is going on in Syria and have little real idea who the players are. The main difference between me and many others who write about it is that I freely admit that.
That said, the basic fact is that when the citizenry rises up against a dictator one of several things will likely happen.
The army stays with the dictator and turns on the people.
The army stays in its barracks.
The army openly joins the people against the dictator.
The Syrian army has remained loyal to Assad throughout this sorry episode which means the only way Assad can be toppled is by full scale military invasion by another country or for all the opposition against him to unite militarily in a bid to turn the army against him.
I’m sure he’s an evil war criminal bastard, but he’s the only viable option at the moment unless you want to carve up Syria into smaller countries and/or attach parts of Syria to other countries around it.
I have yet to come across any evidence whatsoever than any of those opposed to Assad would be any better and some of them, like the Islamic State would surely be even worse. There seem to be no good guys there.
Syria has largely devolved into a proxy war between outside powers, not tremendously unlike the Spanish Civil War. Let’s just hope that that’s where the similarities end.
A quick rundown on my understanding of the powers behind the proxies.
Turkey – Erdogan clearly wants to re-create something like the Ottoman Empire (deranged as that may sound) and wants to continue his war against the Kurds. He also supports Sunni fundamentalists.
Russia – Putin wants to support a traditional Soviet ally (Syria was becoming a Soviet satellite back in the time of the USSR). He also wants to foul the environment for the US and whatever comes after Assad (one reason he mostly leave the Islamic State alone). Domestically he just wants to be seen projecting force as a Great Power since that’s a big thing for Russians.
Saudi Arabia – Wants to extend its hateful, primitive form of Islam, especially against Iran, run by heretical Shias.
Iran – Wants to claim moral leadership of the Islamic World and hold onto allies.
US – I don’t think they have it figured out yet. Obama just doens’t want hurt the feelings of Muslims while Hillary Clinton had been coopted by the all-war-all-the-time neo cons. The US at present has no role in Syria and the best option is probably for that to continue because who needs for us to support a brave rebel group that turns out to be worse than the dictator they replaced…. again?!?
But as long as he has the military on his side Assad is not going anywhere and I more or less hope for his victory by now to stop the fighting. Also as a traditionally fairly diverse country religiously, sadly Assad is probably the best choice. The best deal for religious minorities in muslim majority countries is under the open (or implied) protection of a dictator or monarch. More direct rule by the majority immediate turns into repression as the majority takes out its frustrations agains those seen as favored by the previous regime.