… Why would Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has consolidated control over Syria’s largest cities in the past year and put the rebels on the defensive, risk a new international backlash by using chemical weapons? If he’s winning, why would Assad take such a risk?
The answer lies in Assad’s refusal to compromise or offer any significant concessions since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, and later morphed into a civil war. Assad overplayed his hand this time, after being emboldened by recent statements from White House officials that it was time for Western powers to accept the “political reality” of Assad’s continued dominance. Assad likely decided to test those boundaries, not expecting Trump to respond militarily because the U.S. president has made it clear that he sees fighting Islamic State as his highest priority in Syria and Iraq.
Aside from his brutality – the war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced nearly half of Syria’s population – Assad’s staying power is rooted in a convoluted foreign policy, pioneered by his father, Hafez al-Assad. Syria played the role of a regional broker and Arab nationalist standard-bearer since 1970, when the elder Assad seized power through a military coup.