Aleppo seals win for au­thor­i­tar­ian al­liance

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The fall of Aleppo marks the victory of an au­thor­i­tar­ian al­liance stretch­ing from Tehran to Mos­cow, an­a­lysts say - and the big­gest win yet for Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad since civil war erupted in 2011. His regime’s to­tal con­trol over east Aleppo, de­clared Thurs­day, was ob­tained with piti­less brute force that has re­duced much of the coun­try’s for­mer eco­nomic heart to rub­ble, in a war that has killed more than 310,000 peo­ple na­tion­wide.

“The first les­son this teaches is that brute force pays off, and that ab­sten­tion has a price,” said Bruno Ter­trais from France’s Foun­da­tion for Strate­gic Re­search. The force, he said, comes from “the mas­sive in­volve­ment of Rus­sia and Iran, who have changed the course of the war” by plough­ing air power, weapons, money and might into de­stroy­ing the rebels. The ab­sten­tion, he added, was “Amer­i­can non­in­ter­ven­tion in 2013”, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama failed to fol­low through on his threat to act if As­sad crossed a “red line” by us­ing chem­i­cal weapons.

It was in 2013, too, two years af­ter the start of the up­ris­ing, that Iran and Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah mili­tia, its ally, an­nounced their en­try into the con­flict on the side of the regime. Rus­sia threw it­self into the fight two years af­ter that, turn­ing the tide for As­sad. “The Rus­sian in­volve­ment was when it re­ally ended, when we knew noth­ing could be done”, one French diplo­matic source said bit­terly. An­a­lysts say the fall of Aleppo has brought Tur­key - which for years backed the op­po­si­tion against As­sad but then helped Rus­sia to or­ga­nize the fi­nal evac­u­a­tion of the city’s rebel zone - into the au­thor­i­tar­ian al­liance.

Now Ankara sits along­side Mos­cow, Tehran and Da­m­as­cus in be­ing able to dic­tate the terms of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment in Syria in “ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween friends”, as one Euro­pean diplo­mat put it. Each sees its own in­ter­ests in Syria’s fu­ture: for Tur­key, a sta­ble neigh­bor on its bor­der, a diplo­matic ally for Iran and as a “use­ful” tool for Rus­sia, notably against US in­flu­ence.

Pyrrhic victory

As­sad, mean­while, has a long way to go to re­gain oth­ers parts of Syria in the hands of op­po­si­tion forces, Kur­dish fighters, and Is­lamic State ji­hadists. Aleppo has suf­fered such huge dev­as­ta­tion be­cause of sus­tained fight­ing and mas­sive aerial bom­bard­ment that it will take years for the city to re­cover. “This is a Pyrrhic victory”, warns re­searcher Karim Bi­tar at the French In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Af­fairs. “On the one hand, it has ac­cen­tu­ated the frus­tra­tion and hu­mil­i­a­tion felt by Syr­i­ans. On the other, the Rus­sians are al­ready start­ing to feel the con­se­quences”, he said, re­fer­ring to the as­sas­si­na­tion of Mos­cow’s am­bas­sador to Tur­key Mon­day by a man seek­ing to avenge Aleppo.

For­eign pow­ers which have backed the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and some Western states, come out af­ter the Aleppo de­feat weak­ened, an­a­lysts said, con­signed to an ob­server sta­tus. Ter­trais un­der­scores that Aleppo’s fall, and the resur­gence of As­sad, was not an “in­evitable” out­come of the war but a con­se­quence of in­ac­tion by Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies. “This is not a ques­tion of Western pow­er­less­ness. It is a ques­tion of a lack of willpower,” he said. As El­liot Abrams noted in a re­cent Coun­cil of For­eign Re­la­tions brief, US pol­icy of non-in­ter­ven­tion looks set to con­tinue in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, which is more likely to see ac­tion sup­port­ing democ­racy as a lux­ury the West can­not af­ford in the face of Is­lamist threats. — AFP

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