The fall of Aleppo and the adjusted alignment of international parties involved in the Syrian conflict have important implications for the future of that country as well as for the United States’ overall role in the Middle East.
What should be -- but is not necessarily -- the primary concern of all parties with respect to the Syrian conflict is to bring it and the human suffering it has produced to an end, as soon as possible. The loss of Aleppo by the various rebel groups holding out there to the combined assault of Syrian government, Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian and other forces, supported by Russian as well as Syrian air attacks, was a significant development.
It was especially important to the Bashar Assad government, in political and symbolic terms as well as a military victory. Remember that in gunning down Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara, Turkey, on Dec. 19, assassin Mevlut Mert Altintas yelled, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”
There is, in principle, still in effect a shaky cease-fire and talks with various Syrian and international parties are scheduled for later this month in Kazakhstan. In spite of the still unclear situation in the country, including the fact that there are still many different forces, including those of the Islamic State group, holding various pieces of Syria, a clearer picture of the future does seem to be emerging.
The US role in the Middle East has shown itself to be lessened considerably as the Syrian war has evolved recently. The US horses in the race, primarily “moderate” Syrian rebels and the Kurds, are not big players. US-backed forces were first supposed to take Islamic State group-held Mosul in Iraq, then proceed to alleged Islamic State group capital Raqqa in Syria. The “liberators” are still bogged down outside Mosul.
On the international level, what has occurred in Syria has been brokered almost entirely by Russia and Turkey with Iranian acquiescence, with America largely dealt out of the game. Whether this will change with the advent of the new government in Washington Jan. 20 remains to be seen. American Middle East policy under Obama will be under sharp review by new President Donald Trump, with respect not only to the Middle Eastern parties and expensive conflicts but also in terms of US policy toward Russia, Iran and Turkey.