After Aleppo’s fall: ‘Nobody can claim victory’

A quick take on some of the key questions about what next for Syria’s war.

Aleppo destruction
Nobody can claim victory in a context of such intense human suffering and proliferation of horrific violence [Getty]

Aleppo is now under full control of the Syrian army and its allied forces. Syrians will live and fight the conflict in different ways for many generations to come. However, the battle over Aleppo will certainly be considered a major turning point in the trajectory of the crisis that began almost six years ago.

Although the only certainty in this moment is uncertainty, Samer Abboud, an associate professor of international studies at the University of Arcadia and author of Syria, gives a quick take on what recent events and the re-establishment of Syrian government control over Aleppo will mean for Syrians moving forward.

Is this the end of the war?

“Many regime apologists have taken to declaring the recapture of Aleppo as the end of the Syrian war. Others have suggested that this may not be the end, but that it is indeed the beginning of the end.

“We should avoid such absolutisms today, which are driven more by political will than they are by any serious consideration of what destruction and suffering the conflict has engendered.

“Assuming this is the end of the war suggests not only that fighting will stop, but that the regime has the ability to control all of Syria, assert itself throughout its cities and countryside, control all of the aligned militias, and engage in a process of reconstruction.

“This is simply not the case. Fighting continues to persist throughout the country and even in areas ostensibly under regime control, violence and insecurity remain parts of the daily lives of Syrians.”

What are the prospects for a political solution?

“The regime and its allies, principally Russia and Iran, have shown no interest whatsoever in a multilateral peace process to end the conflict. This was certainly the case when there was a more consolidated military stalemate and it will certainly be the case moving forward, as the regime claims control over formerly rebel-held territories.

“Multilateralism and international involvement in Syria’s future is extremely unlikely, now more so than ever.

“Instead, the regime and its allies have relied on local truces and agreements as mechanisms of reconciliation and dialogue, even though they are anything but and serve merely as a façade.

“These agreements focus more on the movement of fighters and civilians outside besieged areas and carry with them no consideration of politics or reconciliation. We are in a situation in which the politics of peace will be imposed and not negotiated.

“The events in Aleppo have emboldened the regime and its allies and proven the utility of the military solution adopted so many years ago.

“This is a short-sighted and destructive view, no doubt, and is one in which a serious commitment to a political solution cannot possibly emerge.”

Will violence decrease?

“The large-scale violence inflicted on Aleppo is unlikely to subside in the immediate future and will, instead, simply shift to other areas.

“First, pockets of armed rebels still exist in the city’s environs and they are unlikely to cease attacks against civilian and military targets, despite their depleted capacities.

“This is certainly the case in Hama and Homs, where violence persists in the countryside. Second, larger pockets of rebel-held territory in Idlib, Raqqa, Eastern Ghouta, and the Hama countryside, still exist and are likely to be targeted soon by regime-aligned military forces.

“With the ‘success’ of Aleppo and the intoxication of victory among the regime and its allies still fresh, it is unlikely that any scenario other than sustained violence awaits these areas and their civilian populations.

“Third, the recapture of Palmyra by ISIL forces during the attacks in Aleppo ensures that the international community will maintain its indifference and tacit support  – declarations of humanitarianism notwithstanding – of the Russian-led intervention.

“The persistence of armed groups and sustained aerial bombardment simply means that the violence will be repackaged in Syria and continue in different forms.

“Syrians will neither be spared the large-scale horrors of Aleppo or the sieges of their villages and towns.”

Who has power in Syria?

“The regime has not only had to rely on Russian aerial support but the on-the-ground support of thousands of militias drawn from all walks of Syrian life and from throughout the region.

“These militias are not cohesive or under any central command, let alone decidedly loyal to what is left of the regime. Popular representations of the regime-aligned militias suggest that their fight is ideological and political, but this betrays the other motivations, such as economic ones, that drive their violence.

“They are far outside any central control and have often operated independently of any command.

“As the regime-aligned forces exert their control over larger swaths of territory and these militias are responsible for this control, warlords will continue to emerge and inter-militia fighting is likely to increase.

“Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and its supporters will be emboldened by the events in Aleppo and try to use this as a moment to assert their political and military will throughout Syria.

“The presence of so many militias and varied regional interests may be the breeding grounds for conflict, rather than cooperation.”

Did Assad win the war?

“Despite its significance in the trajectory of the conflict, the control of Aleppo by regime-aligned forces will neither bring about an end to the violence.

“Not only does the celebration of the recapture as a “victory” signal moral and political ineptitude and bankruptcy, but it also ignores that the conditions for continued violence and insecurity – which are multiple – will persist throughout the country.

“There is thus no serious way in which we can declare victory for one side or another after Aleppo unless we define victory as wins and losses on the battlefield.

“Surely, nobody can claim victory in a context of such intense human suffering and proliferation of horrific violence that has undermined and exposed the rottenness of the Syrian regime as well as the rebels they were fighting against.

“Yet, those celebrating the outcome of Aleppo as such are mired in a binary understanding of the conflict as one between regime supporters and oppositionists.

“The reality is much more complex than that.

“While the military situation suggests that the regime-aligned forces have the upper hand, this has come at tremendous cost not only to human life and physical infrastructure, but to even the possibility and feasibility of a viable political entity that has members of this regime at the top.

“We are thus faced with the proverbial victory of the battle at the expense of the larger war. The Syrian regime may indeed rid large parts of the country of rebels, as they did in Aleppo, but at what expense?

“This was achieved through excessive reliance on regional supporters, the destruction of the country, the tearing of its social fabric, and a long-term generational crisis of unparalleled trauma. Nobody can claim victory after all of this.”

Source: Al Jazeera