After 10 years of bloodshed, foreign allies are seeking to rehabilitate the Syrian leader.
For almost a decade he was a pariah who struggled to get a meeting abroad or even to assert himself on his visitors. Largely alone in his palace, save for trusted aides, Bashar al-Assad presided over a broken state whose few friends demanded a humiliating price for their protection, and weren’t afraid to show it.
During regular trips to Syria, Vladimir Putin arranged meetings at Russian bases, forcing Assad to trail behind him at functions. Iran too readily imposed its will, often dictating military terms, or sidelining the Syrian leader on decisions that shaped the course of his country.
But with the din of war and insurrection receding and a tired region recalibrating from an exhausting 10 years, an unlikely dynamic is emerging: Assad the outcast is in demand. Foes who opposed him as Syria unravelled increasingly view Damascus as a key to reassembling a ruptured region. The savagery that saw half a million people killed when officials stopped counting in 2015 appears no longer the obstacle it was. Nor is Assad’s central role in a catastrophe that uprooted half the country’s population and infected the body politic of Europe and beyond.