From his point of view, Bashar al-Assad can be proud of his 20 years in power so far. He was able to crack down on the democratic uprising of 2011 — Syria's "Arab Spring" — and thanks to massive military help from Russia and Iran he has effectively won the ensuing civil war. His opponents, who now boil down to a few Islamist militias, only control small parts of the country.
Furthermore, the West has decided that compared to "Islamic State" (IS) and other terrorist militias, which paraded their cruel and brutal practices in spectacular fashion, he is the lesser evil. Western governments and observers have stopped calling for his resignation. And though it found many sympathizers in Europe and the US at first, the democratic opposition has now been marginalized. Assad can count this as one of his achievements too.
The West has left Syrians in the lurch
But the fact that the president is more firmly in the saddle than ever has less to do with him than with Russia and Iran, as well as the West's failure.
The US under President Donald Trump is much more concerned with itself and has been gradually making a strategic withdrawal from the region, despite occasional about-turns. Trump's predecessor Barack Obama had already shown how ridiculous the West's Syria policy was when he did not act upon his threat to intervene militarily if the Assad regime crossed the "line" and used chemical weapons.
The European Union, meanwhile, has concentrated on humanitarian aid and is doing its best to prevent more refugees arriving from Syria and the region. Brussels has made a deal with Turkey, which now acts as a "bouncer" to the gates of Europe, and everybody looks on in silence as a humanitarian disaster unfolds in Greece's refugee camps. The West has left Syrians in the lurch.
Suspects on trial but main culprit still free
Perhaps one tiny glimmer of light in all of this is that there are now trials taking place in the European Union against Syrians suspected of war crimes. Just like their rival Jihadists, supporters of Assad can now be held accountable for their crimes in Germany. It is important that individual cases are examined and that perpetrators are brought to justice.
We can only hope that one day, there will be a more far-reaching inquiry into the questionable role of the Gulf states and Turkey in the funding of armed groups.
But it is clear where the main political responsibility for the estimated 500,000 casualties of Syria's civil war and regular bombings of schools, hospitals and other civilian establishments lies. If ever there is to be justice for Syria, the main culprit will be found in his presidential palace in Damascus. His accomplices are in Moscow and Tehran.