With a huge assist from Uncle Vlad, of course. Not to mention our Secretary of State, whose mindless "smart power" riffing on a hypothetical scenario provided the opening through which Moscow and Damascus giddily charged, handcuffing Obama in the process. Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg surveys Assad's decisive win:
The agreement, reached over the weekend, to begin disarming Syria represents an astonishing victory for the Assad regime. It is also a victory for Assad’s main weapons supplier and diplomatic protector, Russian President Vladimir Putin..Why is this agreement a victory for him? Two reasons: (1) So long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons on his people, he’ll be safe from armed Western intervention. Roughly 98 percent of the people who have died in the Syrian civil war so far have not been killed with chemical weapons, so obviously Assad and his regime have figured out ways to cause mass death in conventional ways. It’s safe to assume that he’ll increase the tempo of attacks on rebels and civilians, knowing now that he can do so with impunity. Obama won’t be outlining any further “red lines,” it would seem. (2)By partnering with Russia and the West on the disarmament process, a process that is meant to last into 2014 (and most likely won’t be finished for years, even if it is carried out in good faith, which is a big “if”), Assad has made himself indispensable. A post-Assad regime wouldn’t necessarily be party to this agreement, and might not even go through the motions. Syria, post-Assad, might very well be more fractured and chaotic than it is now, which is to say, even less of an environment in which United Nations weapons inspectors could safely go about their work. The U.S. now needs Assad in place for the duration. He’s the guy, after all, whose lieutenants know where the chemical weapons are.
That's right, the big, splashy "deal" legitimizes Assad, and relies on the survival of his regime through at least 2014. And quite a lot of the "disarmament" process will be led and guided by...Assad (via Time):
According to Russian diplomat Alexei Pushkov, who discussed the outlines of the proposal with TIME, it includes several complicated phases and gives Syria a leading role in the destruction of its own chemical arsenal...the proposal would clearly give Syria substantial control over the process at every step.
Just how keen is the Assad government on carrying out its end of the bargain in good faith? This keen, according to the Wall Street Journal:
A secretive Syrian military unit at the center of the Assad regime's chemical weapons program has been moving stocks of poison gases and munitions to as many as 50 sites to make them harder for the U.S. to track, according to American and Middle Eastern officials. The movements of chemical weapons by Syria's elite Unit 450 could complicate any U.S. bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks, officials said. It also raises questions about implementation of a Russian proposal that calls for the regime to surrender control of its stockpile, they said. U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons are located, but with less confidence than six months ago, U.S. officials said.
There are also rumors floating around that some of the weapons have been smuggled off to Lebanon and Iraq. So Assad hides his weapons, becomes an operational "partner" for "peace," and buys himself months of desperately needed time. The US is reduced to embracing Putin's ruthlessly exploitative gambit and working with the man who we've labeled a neo-Hitler. Our official policy posture for years -- "Assad must go" -- lies in tatters. The only remaining hope for regime change (which is our goal, but not really, or something) is the rebels, whom we've begun to arm with heavier weaponry. Did I mention that roughly half of them are now considered to be jihadists, despite John Kerry's sunny assessment to the contrary before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Those assertions were apparently informed an analysis (to which I hopefully linked a few weeks back) written by this person. I say again, smart power. The good news? At least one observer is thoroughly impressed by what he's seen: