"What are the Iranians thinking? They have made Assad’s political survival a strategic priority, but the incompetence and brutality of his regime – to which Iran has amply contributed – have ensured the task is unachievable. Even with Iranian and Russian help Assad is losing ground rapidly. Partly that’s because the life is gone from his armed forces, which have been successful only in their campaign to slaughter tens of thousands of civilians.
Only fear of what might come after Assad has made countries reluctant to help accelerate the Syrian president’s exit. To quote the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, who was speaking last month to the Council on Foreign Relations, “The last thing we want to do is to allow [Islamic extremists] to march into Damascus.” That attitude has long prevailed in Washington, but only now are the Americans realizing that their hesitancy to see Assad pushed out in 2011 only created conditions that made a worse outcome probable.
Assad may hold out for a time. But he has nothing on which to rebuild his authority. His community is in disarray; his army and intelligence services are as well. Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are filling the void, but with increasingly limited effectiveness and no hope of amelioration. Bashar Assad’s regime is on life support. Someone needs to pull the plug, preferably Assad’s friends, while a negotiated transition in Syria is still vaguely possible."