His public and private comments suggest that Assad is preparing to follow the example of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, staking his life on his regime’s survival. A growing consensus in Washington and in Middle East capitals now holds that Assad — a man once viewed as a moderate capable of reform — will be forced from power only by death or capture.
“There will not be any negotiations,” said Jeffrey White, a former senior Middle East analyst for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. “He will go down fighting, and he will probably do it in Damascus.”
Senior U.S. analysts who have studied Assad’s recent public appearances described him as increasingly divorced from reality. While they said Assad is neither stupid nor cowardly, he appears to have bought into his own rhetoric, perceiving himself to be the savior of his ethnic clan, the Alawites, as well as the embodiment of the Syrian state. He also appears unfazed by his pariah status, they say.
“Assad is a self-righteous, conspiracy-minded dictator who’s given no indication so far he’s prepared to go quietly into the night,” said a U.S. official with access to intelligence from inside Syria who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the assessment. “As with many strongmen before him, Assad’s hubris is leading him into some bad decision making.”
While it is impossible to predict with certainty what Assad will do if faced with imminent defeat, his moves so far suggest that he intends to dig in even deeper.
“He’s backed himself into an increasingly narrow corner,” the official said.
Diplomatic avenues close
The hardening of Assad’s resolve in recent weeks has all but extinguished hopes for a political deal that would hasten his departure and lessen the risk of heavy, block-by-block fighting in Syria’s largest cities. As recently as early July, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was not too late for Assad to accept such a deal, and White House officials spoke hopefully of an arrangement similar to the one that persuaded Yemen’s longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step aside.
Last week, leaders of the 22-nation Arab League put forward a new plan calling for Assad to transfer power to a transitional government in exchange for exile. Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, urged Assad to make a “courageous” decision to step aside for the sake of his country.
The proposal, which followed a series of private offers by several Arab countries to broker exit deals, was dismissed in Damascus.