Today, after nearly eight years of conflict, Mr. Assad is on the verge of victory. His forces have clawed back control over much of the country, with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed foreign militias. Despite his government’s documented atrocities, Arab states that long shunned it are beginning to normalize relations, evidently resigned to the regime’s survival…
To survive the uprising that threatened his rule and come back from the brink of defeat, Mr. Assad followed a blueprint marked out from the early days of the conflict.
When protesters first took to the streets eight years ago, Mr. Assad decided against modest political concessions that might have eased the tensions, but that loyalists worried could embolden more calls for change. Instead, his regime opted for a violent crackdown, dubbed protesters terrorists and pushed the opposition toward armed confrontation.
“If he could transform this into a sectarian struggle, into an armed struggle, he could survive indefinitely,” said Frederic C. Hof, who oversaw Syria policy at the State Department during President Obama’s first term.