Syrian forces have now seized control of more than half of the territory in Aleppo once held by rebels who opposite President Bashar al-Assad, and supporters of the Assad regime expect victory in the country’s largest city.
It’s a crushing blow to the opposition, and could trigger a domino effect as rebels retreat to more rural areas of Syria.
“Most of the moderate militias that the United States had been arming and training are situated in Aleppo. Once Aleppo falls, the center of gravity for the opposition shifts to Idlib Province,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the daily newsletter Syria Comment. “This is dominated by Islamists and jihadists like al Qaeda. The United States will not be able to support those people. So it's hard to imagine how Assad is not going to really become the victor here.”
— Joshua Landis (@joshua_landis) December 8, 2016
Landis said as the Assad regime gathers strength, people who had been on the fence about supporting either the Syrian government or the opposition will align with whoever they perceive to be the likely winner of the Syrian civil war. It’s also complicated by President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office a little more than a month from now. Landis says Trump tampered expectations of democracy promotion during his campaign – which runs counter to more than a decade of American foreign policy under presidents Bush and Obama.
“Americans are talking about stability and security in a way that supports dictators. This sends a message to the Middle East,” Landis said. “It is a big win for Russia and for Assad, and for Iran, frankly. And our allies - Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia - are very upset. They think that America is letting them down, and they're very critical of us.”
Trump has also prioritized fighting self-proclaimed Islamic State militants, and surrounded himself with anti-Iran generals.
“Our military strategy is to help Iran spread its influence over Iraq and Syria, and our stated policy is to contain Iran and support Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey - the opponents of Iran,” Landis said. “So we're pursuing two very different things, and so that's the dilemma for the United States in the Middle East when he comes to power shortly.”
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