Aleppo’s fall to the Assad regime with the surrender Thursday, Dec. 15, of the Syrian rebel forces locked in a corner of the eastern districts was the most disastrous military and strategic setback to befall the Obama administration for two years. It started evolving in September 2015, when Russia stepped up its military intervention in the Syria war and rescued Bashar Assad.
When Aleppo succumbed to the Russian-backed government army and its allies, Iran, Hizballah and fellow Shite militias, it did not fall alone. It brought down the entire architecture of US-backed positions in northern Syria. The US had invested in and trained local groups, such as the Syrian Kurdish militia and the rebel Free Syrian Army, as the bedrock for its policy and interests in the conflict. Those groups have melted away.
The acknowledged overlords of northern Syria today are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who can claim the Aleppo victory. Bashar Assad and Iran are reduced to playing second fiddle. But whereas the Al Qods chief Iranian general Qassem Soleimani commands pro-Iranian forces in the region, America has been divested of all its military assets and has no real say in the next chapter of the horrific war.
Hence US Secretary of State John Kerry’s despairing appeal Thursday in a press briefing to bring the bloodshed and suffering to an end: “We can’t have another Srebrenica” – a reference to the Serbian slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Serbs in 1985 – he said.
Kerry has toiled tirelessly for a diplomatic solution to the dreadful Syrian war, but his appeal falls on senses hardened by the many Srebrenicas perpetrated in more than five years of conflict. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have been slaughtered – according to an unofficial estimate up to a million – and many subjected to chemical warfare. The secretary can’t count on the Kremlin to relent and so, even after the last Syrian rebels and their families are out of Aleppo, the killing will go on.
In Washington, 10,000 kilometers away, the Aleppo calamity is being dished up as a political tool. The claim was heard Thursday that the “same Vladimir Putin” who sponsored the atrocities in Aleppo, also interfered in the US presidential election by sending hackers to influence the results in favor of Donald Trump. The claim is touted by Obama administration spokesmen and the Democratic Party, whose candidate Hillary Clinton lost the election. It appears to be fodder for a Democratic party drive building up for the president-elect’s impeachment even before he is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.
The Putin factor comes in handy for the latest tactic in a series pursued since the November 8 election, for delegitimizing Trump’s victory and negating his fitness to reach the White House.
This campaign may resonate strongly on America’s future policy and position as a world power, because it is designed to block Trump’s path to a deal with Putin for resolving the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration has no wish to see the new president succeed where it failed for nearly six years.
Putin will have no qualms about capitalizing on Washington’s preoccupation with its internal power struggle and will build up as many gains in Syria as he can before Donald Trump takes over. Obama’s threat Friday, Dec. 12, to retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election will just provoke the Russian president to move faster and more determinedly in his grab for more assets in Syria.