Ken Roth in The Guardian:
The need to negotiate with leaders as unsavoury as Syria’s Bashar al-Assadis an unfortunate reality of diplomacy. But western leaders should be careful not to confuse that necessity with the idea promoted by Russiathat the Syrian crisis can be resolved only if Assad stays in power. Nor should they believe that Assad’s ongoing rule is the only way to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state and protect Syria’s diverse communities.
Vladimir Putin has long sought to portray Assad as a bulwark against the self-declared Islamic State. But far from a stabilising factor or a solution to the Isis threat to basic rights, Assad is a major reason for the rise of extremist groups in Syria. In the early days of Syria’s uprising, between July and October 2011, Assad released from prison a number of jihadists who had fought in Iraq, many of whom went on to play leading roles in militant Islamist groups. These releases were part of broader amnesties, but Assad kept in prison those who backed the peaceful uprising.
These releases helped to change the complexion of the Syrian rebellion from one with largely democratic aims, to one dominated by jihadists. That transformation has enabled Assad to refocus the narrative from his vicious rule to his claimed indispensability in the fight against Isis.