Not all civil wars are created equal. Some civil wars look a lot like a conventional interstate war: two coherent sides controlling solid blocks of territory. In other civil wars, guerrillas and urban terrorists operate in the same territory as government forces: this is the typical “insurgency.” (In a third type, there is no “government”: the state has collapsed and everyone is fighting it out among each other.)
Two political scientists, Laia Balcells (Duke) and Stathis Kalyvas (Yale), have recently taken a good look at the two kinds of civil war. They found that the first kind of conventional civil war was more intense ... but also a lot shorter. They are also more likely to end in a negotiated settlement or rebel victory than insurgencies.
They suggest that Syria is starting to look more like a conventional war. The implication is that the war may be much closer to ending than we currently think.
I am not so sure. First, the conflict has many more irregular qualities than many appreciate. Power supplies are subject to regular sabotage. Almost half of the land-lines are out, also due to insurgent action. In September, an attack on a fiber optic cable took out the internet. The government certainly has the upper hand in most of its territory, but it still faces insurgent violence. Moreover, it has had much trouble in maintaining its operational tempo and lacks enough troops to consolidate its territorial gains without losing control over other areas. (We here at TPTM mentioned this problem a while ago.)
Second, as is well known, the opposition has fragmented. (Only the Kurds have consolidated territorial control, but they face international opposition, not least from the government of Iraqi Kurdistan.) This is not the face of a rebel army ready to emulate Franco and sweep away the government; nor is it a force likely to make the government choose to compromise at peace talks.
Finally, the Syrian regime is being propped up from the outside. For example, Iran has agreed to finance food imports.
Put it together, and I see neither the conditions for a rapid regime collapse nor a swift government victory.