The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Assad Defiant as "Decade of War" Ends

Butcher Assad is getting cocky. As President Obama brought down the curtain on America’s “decade of war” yesterday, Assad reportedly sang a different tune: “I will win, even if Damascus is destroyed.”

The source of Assad’s confidence? Iran is helping him assemble a new civilian paramilitary force. Iran’s elite Quds Force is training and counseling the new pro-Assad militias, providing the Syrian army with assistance in fighting what has become a guerrilla war:

Most of the new fighters are members or supporters of the ruling Baath party, said Abdel Rahman. “They include men and women, and members of all the sects.” . . .

Members of the paramilitary force, like the popular committees before, will focus on fighting in their own neighbourhoods. . . .

“The Syrian authorities are set to create . . . a National Defence Army, parallel to regime forces, so that the (regular) army is freed up for combat,” the website reported citing an unnamed official.

Reports have surfaced that the new fighting force is already active in the province of Homs. Pro-regime forces are showing that they can adapt to the changing nature of the conflict, but it’s unclear whether the rebels have the organization, training, arms, or manpower to do the same.

When President Obama claimed in his second inaugural speech that a “decade of war is now ending,” he seemed to mean that he would like to cut down on America’s involvement in the Middle East. What’s not clear is whether the Middle East will cooperate with his wishes. For one thing, the combination of economic sanctions and the loss of an ally in Syria was supposed to bring Iran to the negotiating table. If Assad is still standing tall, it makes it that much less likely that the mullahs will acquiesce.

Published on January 22, 2013 5:50 pm