Almost everyone wants Assad out of Syria. Resign, they say, just resign and get out. It isn’t going to happen. He’s reasonably literate. He can read. He can see what happens to ex-dictators guilty of heinous crimes. Taylor, Mubarak, Milosevic, Qaddafi, and, of course, the ever popular Saddam Hussein, just to name a few. There is no such thing as resigning and getting out. There is only death or life in prison accompanied by world wide public scorn.
That isn’t always true. Idi Amin pulled off life in the prison of his own choice: Saudi Arabia. Assad might be able to do the same by claiming refuge in Russia, but I don’t imagine that a lifetime under close supervision in Moscow holds much allure.
So, what’s the alternative? Becoming a nice guy working toward a more open and “democratic” society is one, but highly unlikely. It’s not in his genes. The other is to squash all opposition by whatever means possible, the more horrendous the better, and remain tyrant for life, deluded into believing that his people love him, and that he, above all others, is the very symbol of what it means to be a Syrian. Getting away with thumbing his nose at the West, and especially at the U.S. is just an added benefit.
It’s not an Assad thing. It’s the way of all tyrannical dictators, and has been for thousands of years. In the end, as I hope we have learned, it is up to the Syrians themselves to do something about it. They have to decide what kind of society they want to live in. No one else can do it for them. See Iraq and Afghanistan for more on this point. It’s hard to know what the rest of the world can do that might help while causing the least additional harm. Maybe something like the Libya operation, but it would have to be led by Arab nations if it was to have any credibility. How likely is that, considering that most of them are led by dictatorial, albeit not altogether tyrannical, rulers?
My own guess is this, provided that American war hawks don’t mess it up. Egypt settles down after the election to become more Islamist, but moderately so, state. Together with Jordan and Turkey they figure out a way to underwrite the Syrian opposition without too much publicity about it. Assad eventually goes the way of all such as he. Syrians struggle for a decade or so trying to figure out who they want to be. In the meantime, Lebanon gets to mature into permanent civility without Syrian interference, and a new Mideast bloc emerges that is more comfortable in its own skin, and with its global neighbors.