It is hard to judge what is happening in Syria. Although the trend in the embattled country seems to be toward peace and stability, there appears to be little movement toward democracy or the departure of President Bashar Assad.
On the positive side, the Assad regime seems to be fulfilling its pledge to relinquish its chemical weapons for destruction, although it is behind schedule. This is affirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body charged with the task. The Syrians are not likely to meet the mid-2014 deadline for removal, but the job is partly completed and proceeding.
Also a plus, at least from a humanitarian point of view, is the fighting between government forces and the different groups that make up the armed opposition seems to be dying down. Although this represents success for the Assad government, it is hard to see this outcome as useful. There are still millions of refugees who have fled from Syria into neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and many Syrians who have been internally displaced from their homes. There are the thousands of dead and wounded and also the disruption of civilized life in Syria caused by the war.
There is also the likely price, to be paid down the road, of the return of foreign fighters in the Syria conflict to their home countries — Islamist radicals who have gained combat experience in the Syria conflict.
The government is now talking about holding elections in the parts of the country it controls by mid-summer. Bashar Assad will be a candidate and the likely victor, but there will also probably be other presidential candidates, even if they are just straw challengers.
The three-year conflict’s end has to be seen as a good thing, given its disastrous human toll. It is not a triumph for President Barack Obama, who prematurely declared Mr. Assad’s reign to be over. It is also not a triumph for U.S. and international diplomacy, which sought unsuccessfully to achieve a negotiated end to the war.
There may still be a role for diplomacy in reconciling the conflict’s competing parties if the Syrians make a serious effort to heal the wounds and put the country back together. At this point that remains to be seen.