DEVASTATION: Residents stand among debris near buildings damaged when a Syrian air force fighter jet loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles at Binsh, near the northern province of Idlib, on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS
DEVASTATION: Residents stand among debris near buildings damaged when a Syrian air force fighter jet loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles at Binsh, near the northern province of Idlib, on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS

WITH one miscalculation after another, President Bashar al-Assad has reduced Syria to a charnel house and his regime to a bloodstained gang with no aim save survival. Judging by their stark warnings, officials in the UK and the US genuinely fear he could crown his litany of crimes and misjudgments by unleashing Syria’s chemical weapons against his enemies.

Assuming he is a rational actor, concerned for personal survival, there should be no question of him choosing such a course.

But there remains a nagging fear that he could have passed beyond the bounds of rationality. By now "bunker syndrome" might well have taken hold in Damascus, where al-Assad’s armed forces have been reduced to fighting for control of the international airport; for a few days last week, all telephone and internet connections with the rest of the world were abruptly severed.

Even if al-Assad remains rational, no one can be sure that he still controls Syria’s chemical arsenal, which is one of the largest in the world.

As history shows, a dictatorial regime is most dangerous when its final convulsions begin.

London, December 5