News sources report that the killings are continuing in Syria, despite the presence of UN observers. In fact, it appears that the Assad regime is targeting those who are cooperating with the UN observers, something UN peace envoy Kofi Annan calls "unacceptable and reprehensible".
Given the violations of the Annan peace plan, one has to wonder what al-Assad is thinking. What is he ultimately planning for? What are his goals at this stage?
The most obvious answer would be that he wants to stay in power. In order to achieve that end, he will battle the opposition factions in whatever way he can. However, given the international attention that the conflict in Syria is receiving, could he honestly hope to remain in power if the wanton violence finally came to an end? Does he hope to move on from this?
I am leaning towards a "yes". It would take a feat of unimaginable hubris to believe that Assad could emerge from this conflict with his rule intact, but a man who has been sheltered from reality for his entire life might fall prey to such delusions of grandeur. Alternative plans are limited:
- Comfortable exile? Saudi Arabia certainly wouldn't offer haven to Assad (as it offered to Ben Ali of Tunisia). Iran is a possibility, but I don't think the Iranians need to instigate further international scorn.
- Chosen successor? Handing power over to a chosen successor seems unlikely as well, especially if the successor was an Alawite, and one can't imagine Assad handing power over to anything but an Alawite.
- Adherence to the Annan peace plan? Nope. Not gonna happen. Even if we ignored the current violence and watch as somehow the additional UN observers due to arrive in the region somehow put a stop to the killings, what next? Amicably go along with a "political transition" in Syria? In essence, agree to be ousted from power, politically rather than militarily? I doubt it. Amnesty would not be a likely scenario in a post-Assad Syria -- arrest (and probable execution) are much more likely.
Given the lack of effective alternatives, I believe that Assad will stick it out and continue to fight for the survival of his regime. He will continue to use the Annan peace plan to stall for time, target active opposition members, and bait the international community into thinking that it has actually achieved progress. The only way that the international community can break that cycle is with overt military action -- something that seems unlikely at this time, but increasingly necessary.