February 8, 2016

Assad Slowly Regaining Foothold on Syria

UN peace talks fail, and Aleppo is on the verge of falling to Assad.

Whatever momentum was had by rebel factions in Syria is gone, and it faded quicker than the Obama administration can redraw a red line. For a while now, government troops have slowly recaptured some of the territorial gains made by opposition forces. But it wasn’t without help. The Obama strategy, which intended to end Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship by using diplomacy and providing support to rebel forces, was dealt a serious setback when Russia and Iran came to the Syrian government’s aid. Now, backed by fresh foreign assets, Assad is on the verge of turning this story entirely on its head. And the biggest, most pivotal chapter yet is possibly being written right now.

There are two major developments from the last week, beginning with the United Nations’ failure to negotiate a truce. “The peace talks in Geneva ‘adjourned’ last week not long after they began, and no wonder,” says a Wall Street Journal editorial. “There was no peace to talk about.” Which segues to the second development: The city of Aleppo, a rebel stronghold, is closer than ever to falling into government hands. As The Washington Post reported, “The Russian-backed onslaught against rebel positions in Aleppo coincided with the failure of peace talks in Geneva, and helped reinforce opposition suspicions that Russia and its Syrian government allies are more interested in securing a military victory over the rebels than negotiating a settlement.” Aleppo is Syria’s biggest city. There should be no doubt that reclaiming it is Assad’s and his allies’ top priority.

All this has made an already bad migration crisis even worse. According to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the attacks on Aleppo have an estimated 70,000 more refugees looking for shelter in Turkey. Yet the U.S. response remains the same. “Mr. Kerry trumpeted U.S. contributions at a United Nations conference in London last week to drum up financial support for the refugees, who total an estimated 11 million during the civil war in addition to more than 250,000 dead,” the Journal writes, wryly adding, “The U.S. has pledged nearly $1 billion, and if nothing else perhaps the money can buy more coffins.” There’s no easy way to deal with the situation in Syria. But one thing’s for sure: It will not reflect well on the Obama legacy.

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