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Why Assad is winning the war in Syria

With support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, the Assad regime has managed to consolidate power in most parts of Syria previously held by ISIS. Apart from Friday’s joint missile strikes, the U.S.’s role has been limited to diplomatic talks, which has yielded few results in sustaining ceasefires in the seven-year-long war. The New Yorker’s Robin Wright joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In last night’s address to the nation, President Trump said that the response to the atrocities in Syria would also include diplomatic efforts. But seven years into the civil war there has not yet been a concrete diplomatic breakthrough. Joining me now from Washington D.C. to discuss the challenges on that front is Robin Wright, a joint fellow with the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center and a writer for The New Yorker. The president made a point of saying that this would be the combined American, British and French response these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power – military, economic and diplomatic. What kind of leverage do we have left in Syria?

  • ROBIN WRIGHT:

    The United States has never had very much leverage in Syria and its military operation with the exception of the strike last night is really focused largely on ISIS. The United States has opted not to get involved in the civil war, it has been a player in trying to mobilize the international community through the United Nations on the diplomatic front. But the two different efforts since 2012 have so far led no place. There have been the talks sponsored by the United Nations held in Geneva in several different rounds. But the fact is that the opposition and the Syrian government have often refused to even sit in the same room together. The second process launched last year by Russia, Iran and Turkey has tried to generate more momentum. Their talks have taken place in Kazakhstan but they also have not led anything so there’s a lot of talk about this strike generating more steam behind the diplomatic process. But at a briefing by the White House today, they offered no new ideas about exactly how that might happen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, I remember on this very program saying in multiple those weekends, hey that there might be a cease fire and then within a matter of hours if that or possibly days, that cease fire evaporates. In this, besides this specific incident, is Bashar Assad winning the civil war there?

  • ROBIN WRIGHT:

    Over the past year, the Assad regime has managed, with the help of Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Hezbollah fighters to consolidate his hold over the majority of Syria, to knit together patches of different parts of the country. He now controls all the major cities, the pockets that have been beyond his control, one of them was in Eastern Ghouta where he used chemical weapons last weekend, which is where the rebels have now surrendered and that is no longer as much of an obstacle. Then, there is the Al Qaeda operatives, the Islamist groups up in the north west and then there’s the large autonomous zone where the United States has been helping Kurdish and Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces fight ISIS. But the fact is that Assad is, in at this point, winning the war and the reality is that the military strike will not change that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Are there any economic pressures that we can assert either directly or indirectly on Syria?

  • ROBIN WRIGHT:

    Well, the regime has been sanctioned for for a wide array of activities whether it’s human rights violations, support for extremist groups and so forth. The fact is that Russia, as the main diplomatic prop for the Assad regime, has been unwilling to pressure President Assad and the United States has also sanctioned Russia and of course that hasn’t led to a change in his behavior on other fronts. So there’s a real problem of how do you change this terrible stalemate on the ground that has so far in a war killed something like a half million people, that has led to the displacement over half of the country’s 23 million people and has led the majority to be dependent on international aid for their daily bread.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And short of this particular response, it’s gone relatively unchecked, meaning, that there hasn’t been any military aggression from an outside force based on any actions that Bashar Assad has been taking.

  • ROBIN WRIGHT:

    That’s right. And in the years since the United States last struck in Syria again because of chemical weapons, the regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. The White House admitted today and the fact is the military strike did not eliminate the entire range of facilities chemical stockpiles command posts used for chemical weapons in Syria. They did strike three important sites but not all of them. And so Assad can continue to use chemical weapons and short of some kind of foreign invasion, you know, with the extraordinary hundreds of thousands of troops it’s very unlikely that the military balance of power inside Syria will change very much.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Robin Wright thanks so much.

  • ROBIN WRIGHT:

    Thank you.

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