Trump’s decision to pull US troops out leaves the opposition stranded
Sun 30 Dec 2018
Now the clear winner: A Syrian flag bearing Bashar al-Assad’s image in Douma, near Damascus. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP
This year is ending on a note of triumph for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Donald Trump has announced a rapid troop withdrawal from Syria, shocking everyone including his own generals and diplomats. Last week, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus, which it had closed as part of a campaign of multinational pressure against the regime in 2011. Bahrain followed suit and other countries, including Kuwait, are expected to re-establish ties in the coming year. The Arab League is reportedly poised to re-admit Syria, seven years after expelling it.
These developments come five months after the regime made arguably its most consequential gain against the opposition since Syria’s insurgency erupted, when it took control of Deraa in the south-west. Deraa, the cradle of the rebellion against Assad, had been the last stronghold of non-jihadist opposition; its surrender removed any viable threat against the regime, either politically or militarily, near the capital.
Taken together, the military and diplomatic developments over the past six months leave no room for doubt: Assad has decisively won the conflict. The rebels’ former backers have not only given up on challenging his regime, they now actively want to embrace it – whether in public or in private. Internally, the regime has crushed any potent or legitimate opposition. Jihadists operating in north-western pockets of land under Turkish influence will be unlikely to find a foreign backer. Unlike the geopolitical winds that buffeted Saddam Hussein in the 1990s after the first Gulf war, everything is blowing strongly in Assad’s favour.