This might seem like a nonsensical idea, but there are good reasons as to why European countries should back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This is because the most important thing now from their perspective is to bring some sort of stability into Syria.
The thing with the long-ongoing civil war in Syria is that there are no good guys. Initially, Western powers considered backing the rebels, who are mostly Sunni and hence enjoy the support of other Gulf countries. However, a part of the rebel faction turned into Islamic State and started unleashing atrocities not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq.
al-Assad is no paragon of virtue, and his forces have not held back in unleashing atrocities. Yet the fact remains that he has successfully ruled over Syria (albeit as a hereditary dictator) successfully for a few years until the trouble started brewing. The other thing going for him is that he is a strong leader, and can possibly be convinced to talk, given that the only leadership on the other side is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled “caliph” of the Islamic State.
The unrest in Syria has caused much trouble in Europe, thanks to heavy migration – much more than what Europe can normally handle. What this has achieved is in turning Syria’s problem partly into Europe’s problem, and it is in Europe’s interest to solve the problem in Syria if they are to address the problem at their own borders.
The fight in Syria is between two horrible regimes (or one horrible regime and one horrible non-regime), and the victory of neither will do good for the people of Syria. Yet, the steady state of the unsteady peace that will follow after the battle is significantly superior to the people of Syria than the current status of civil war. For this reason, there is merit in ending the war as an immediate goal, and then looking to stabilise the country in the long run.
And the best way for an interventionist power to end a war is to support the stronger side. al-Assad’s side has been officially made stronger with the recent intervention of Russia on that side. So now it is clear who the side more likely to win is. And so Europe should intervene to make sure that happens quickly.
There are other collateral benefits also – coming down on al-Assad’s side will earn European countries brownie points with Putin, which are important because they face off against him in other theatres, such as Ukraine. While it remains that Putin is a madman and the value of such brownie points is unknown, the option value of these points is surely strictly positive?
So Europe should act, and act now. The trouble is at their doorstep now. They need not commit actual troops. Some drones will do for a start. The actual fighting will be done by al-Assad’s forces with more direct help from Putin. And the civil war will hopefully be stamped out soon.
The problem of al-Assad won’t go away, and will need to be dealt with another day, but at least there can be some semblance of peace there. Which might stem the horrific flight of so many Syrians across the seas into Europe’s borders (where they are receiving a mostly cold welcome).
The Gulf countries will not be pleased, of course, but with oil prices dropping their bargaining power in the overall geopolitical sphere is dropping, that much collateral damage is okay for the benefit of putting an end to the horrific conflict in Syria.
Update: This post was updated on 14th of November 2015, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. This is not a nonsensical post any more.