From his hilltop, Mr. Assad can gaze toward several possible futures.
East of the palace lies the airport and a possible dash to exile, a route that some say Mr. Assad’s mother and wife may have already taken. But the way is blocked, not just by bands of rebels, but by a belief that supporters say Mr. Assad shares with his advisers that fleeing would betray both his country and his father’s legacy.
He can stay in Damascus and cling to — even die for — his father’s aspirations, to impose a secular Syrian order and act as a pan-Arab leader on a regional and global stage.
Or he can head north to the coastal mountain heartland of his minority Alawite sect, ceding the rest of the country to the uprising led by the Sunni Muslim majority. That would mean a dramatic comedown: reverting to the smaller stature of his grandfather, a tribal leader of a marginalized minority concerned mainly with its own survival.