Yet more on the battle for Aleppo, and its significance. Kathy Gilsinan, in the Atlantic, talks to Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Gilsinan: If Aleppo falls, walk me through what happens next. First, how would it change the balance of power, within the civil war, between the rebels and the regime?
Tabler: I think it would cement the regime’s hold on “essential Syria”—western Syria, perhaps with the exception of Idlib province [to] the south [of Aleppo]. But basically you would have the regime presence from Aleppo the whole way down to Hama, Homs, and Damascus, and that’s the spine of the country, and that’s what concerns the regime and the Iranians in particular. It would then allow them to free up forces, potentially, to go on the offensive elsewhere, directly into Idlib province, most likely, and then eventually into the south. Then after that they could turn their attention finally to ISIS, which the United States is trying to defeat.
But all of these things would take some time, would take probably months or years to fully institute. But I think that’s what the regime and the Russians are going for: They’re going for a whole-country solution to the Syria crisis based on the Assad regime.
Gilsinan: And then what happens to the regional balance of power within that war?
Tabler: It would be a tremendous loss for the U.S. and its traditional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. It’s already been extremely costly for most of those allies, but it would be a defeat [in the face of] the Russian-Iranian intervention in Syria. This would also be a huge loss for the United States vis-à-vis Russia in its Middle East policy, certainly. And because of the flow of refugees as a result of this, if they go northward to Europe, then you would see a migrant crisis in Europe that could lead to far-right governments coming to power which are much more friendly to Russia than they are to the United States. I think that is likely to happen.
Gilsinan: So it changes the entire orientation, not just of the Middle East, but of Europe as well.
Tabler: It will soften up American power in Europe, yeah. And put into jeopardy a lot of the advances in the NATO-accession countries, which are adjacent to Russia, as well.
Gilsinan: That’s a staggeringly significant outcome for relatively cheap [expenditures] on Russia’s part.
Tabler: It is, isn’t it? I don’t think most people get how much of a blowout this really is. I don’t think most people understand: This defeat of the United States by Russia in Syria, it’s not just about Syria. It’s about our presence in Europe.
Gilsinan: That’s an interesting dynamic to me, because you almost wouldn’t have seen it coming, or at least I wouldn’t have, from this direction. Russia wasn’t really able to change the entire orientation of Europe by intervening in Ukraine, say.
Tabler: Right, but this is the result of the American miscalculation that the Syria crisis could be contained. And so we’re seeing now the failure of policy which happened years ago. It’s not just about military intervention in Syria. It is about the failure to create safe areas in order to protect [people] so that they wouldn’t go running for their lives to Europe. And that’s the real tragedy here. And it’s simply because the White House did not believe that the cost was worth it....
Other ramifications are just the significant weakening of American power. We’re not talking here about the use of force; that’s what was avoided. Power is a lot about perception, about people being able to understand that they can count on you. Do your words matter? And I think in Syria, our words didn’t matter. If you look at it, going back to [President Barack Obama’s call for] Assad [to] step aside, which was read by many to mean that he must go, and I think particularly the red-line incident, the non-strike incident of 2013, that was particularly damaging to American credibility. And I think [it] had ramifications for Russian calculations in Ukraine, and ultimately the calculations of our allies. But we have to understand that this president was elected to get us out of the Middle East. And I think we [Americans] missed that. Because along the way I think he made a lot of decisions on the Middle East which seemed to indicate that he was of two minds. But in the end I think we got the candidate who we originally elected.
The Islamic State of Iraq would not have evolved into ISIL, which would not have evolved into the Islamic State, had it not been for the Syrian Civil War. It generated an unprecedented terrorist threat that we’re only beginning to grapple with now. It also created this humanitarian disaster, which no one seems to fully understand the ramifications of until this point. And I think those two things have made Americans much less safe....