Syrian opposition leaders are “demoralized” following the victory of Republican Donald Trump in the US presidential election.
On the campaign trail, Trump indicated he was inclined to cooperate with Russia over the war in Syria. Russia is providing direct military support to the regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad, against not only Islamic extremists but also the moderate Syrian opposition supported by the US, up to now.
Amr al-Azm is a professor of Middle Eastern history at Shawnee State University in Ohio. He’s also a member of the Syrian opposition.
He says many of his contacts appear disheartened. “It’s a time when we really don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Azm.
“I anticipate that Trump will try to come to some arrangement with [Russian President Vladimir Putin],” adds Azm. “The price for that will obviously be Aleppo, where Putin will be given a free hand … and this will be a big win for the regime.”
The rebel-held part of the Syrian city of Aleppo is under intense siege by government forces, supported by Russia and Iran. It’s the largest urban center remaining under rebel control.
But Azm says the way forward is not simple. He doesn't think the war will come to a rapid end with a regime victory. “But the trajectory of the war — some of the directions the war might take — will probably change.”
He says one issue is whether Trump will continue American military aid and other forms of assistance to the moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad and the Russians.
Azm also wants to know how Washington’s relationship with other key regional actors, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, will change.
Turkey is pushing for a “safe haven” inside Syria under Turkish occupation. The designated territory will conveniently divide two areas occupied by Syria’s ethnic Kurds. Turkey sees Kurdish aspirations to self-rule and nationhood as an existential threat. Russia is coming around to the Turkish safe haven idea. A military defeat of the rebels could trigger a new, mass exodus of refugees.
Azm says the issue of Iran is a “silver lining” for some in the Syrian opposition.
Iran is a key ally of Assad and Russia, at least in Syria. And while Trump may want to cooperate with Moscow, he has signaled antipathy toward Tehran, Iran's capital.
“It is very unlikely that he will want to deal with them, and more than likely he would want to somehow be seen to be limiting their influence and their ability to act through their proxies.”
That could, in turn, affect what the US can do in Iraq, as well.