A while back this blog considered the question of whether Obama should ‘pull a Bush 41’ on Syria’s rebels. This was a reference to the elder Bush’s abandonment of Iraq’s Shi’ite revolt after the first Gulf War. After having goaded Iraq’s southern Shi’ites to revolt, Bush 41 changed his mind and allowed Saddam’s retreating army to quash the rebellion, killing thousands.
Currently in Syria we seem to be witnessing a similar scenario. While today’s battle at Qusayr also saw significant losses for Assad (50 Hezbollah fighters were reported dead, among whom a senior commander), the rebel’s apparent loss of the city to the Assad-Hezbollah coalition signals disaster for the revolution. Qusayr is a strategically located city. Assad’s apparent victory in Qusayr now opens the road for his forces to approach rebel-held areas in and around Homs. The so-called Qusayr corridor also allows Assad to rearm Damascus from Alawite towns on the coast. More importantly still, however, the loss of Qusayr shows that at a vital moment the rebels were abandoned by their Turkish, Western and Gulf State allies. The vital armaments required for rebels to maintain critical ground against well-organized and heavily armed pro-Assad forces did not arrive. It will now be a question of life and death for the rebels. Either the rebels regroup and with the help of potential Western arms retake the offensive against Assad, or it seems the coalition of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah will have succeeded in keeping Assad in power, and this axis can consolidate their gains in Western Syria to pursue further projects.