The jihadist absolutism that has metastasized across northern Syria reflects Assad's brutalization of Syrians by almost every conceivable mode of abuse and violence, and it derives from the firestorm that he unleashed. That firestorm has attracted foreign fanatics.
It is a pity that anyone in the West gives the time of day to the Syrian regime's narrative that it is a defense against jihadism; few arsonists have ever paraded so impudently as firemen.
What of the opposition?
On the one hand, these are dark days. The official coalition based in Turkey is torpid; jihadists have imposed religious courts in al-Raqqa, Aleppo and elsewhere; and fractiousness protrudes amid infrastructure collapse in areas liberated from the regime.
Yet across Syria, opposition-armed elements with poor firepower and constricted supplies in shattered cities, suburbs and villages somehow sustain a viable resistance and a mobilized manpower in excess of 100,000 - which would be impossible if they did not have the sympathy of the larger part of the population.
A protest slogan in Idlib province, reported in the international Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on July 13, declared: "we shall build the free Syrian state according to our will and we shall not import it from Tora Bora."
It expresses popular sentiments against Islamists, who would swiftly deflate in the transformed public atmosphere after a regime collapse.
As regards Assad, millions of Syrians, including refugees, have not lost sight of the source of their calamities and what it would mean for their aspirations to have his yoke reimposed.
As time has passed, responsibility for the devastation of Syria has become somewhat diffuse.
Islamist financiers in Arab oil principalities buttress jihadists. Iran is determined to salvage Assad as a satrap, Persian-imperial-style.
The West has sat by watching, and left its friends to twist in the wind.
Nothing, however, should blur the cardinal criminality of those who created the whole mess and who have been the engine of horror: Assad and his security apparatus.
Harris is professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand. His most recent book is "Lebanon: A History, 600-2011." This column first appeared in The Washington Post.