Assad has won the Syria war, ex-CIA deputy director says

It is now clear that Syria’s President Bashar Assad has won the Syria war - at least militarily - while the United States has suffered a major strategic defeat to Russia, said John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA, writing in the online platform OZY on Thursday. 

“Of the regional leaders who inspired violent domestic protests, Assad is the only one left in power (aside from the Bahrain monarchy that survived a brief protest with Saudi protection),” said McLaughlin. 

But Assad owes his survival to Russia and Iran, and “with 400,000 Syrians killed, 5.7 million having fled the country, and 6.1 million internally displaced, Assad emerges as a ruler with no legitimacy - and one with little claim on international assistance for reconstruction,” he wrote.

Assad’s forces are currently engaged in a Russian-backed offensive to re-take the last rebel-held province of Idlib, northwest Syria.

Out of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the United States - the four major powers with interests on the Syrian battlefield - Russia has emerged as the most willing and able to exert its influence and, while it shares huge blame for humanitarian suffering, its skilful diplomacy has put it on good terms with the Arab states, Israel, and Iran, said McLaughlin. 

“Russian President Vladimir Putin may now be the most influential foreign leader in the Middle East,” he said.

While Iran’s position is entrenched in Syria as an ally of Assad, Turkey finds itself pulled in multiple directions; opposed to Assad, but eager to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia. Turkey’s stance on receiving more refugees has strained its relationship with Europe, and its attitude towards forces led by Syrian Kurds has put it at odds with the United States.

The United States has meanwhile forfeited most of its influence in Syria, through its drawdown in troops and inconsistent mission, said McLaughlin. “Strategically, the U.S. has probably lost more than we can now realise,” he wrote. 

He argued that a clearly defined purpose, combined with skilful diplomacy and a modest amount of force had been required from the United States. “The moment for such an amalgam may have passed, but the world is often surprisingly open to U.S. leadership … even when it shows up late,” he said.