It would be ridiculous to ask what the Syrian opposition and its supporters had done to prepare in anticipation of Trump’s win, and the situation would not be better if the question was only about what the opposition did while waiting for Obama’s departure. What is even more ridiculous is that waiting for Obama’s official departure may be followed by another sort of waiting — the traditional wait until Trump appoints his administration and it begins its work, and this wait could be accompanied by notice of Trump’s temperament, and its volatility, which invites for waiting for his mood to flip in favor of the revolution or waiting for the realization of his promise to abandon the nuclear agreement with Iran and then the upcoming confrontation.
In this period of waiting, Moscow has mobilized its arsenal to change the facts on the ground. This was not a surprise except to those who wish to appear surprised. The battle on the ground was not a stalemate in the first place, and the fact that the losses of the rebel groups has been justified by the enemy’s superior firepower and massive increase in allied militias does not change the facts. Despite the evident valor of the fighters, in the end it is hard to win a semi-conventional war when the opposing side dominates in equipment and fighters, and of course with the loss of a reliable ally and continuous supply lines.
It is true that the conflict went outside its Syrian framework when Tehran directly intervened, by means of its Revolutionary Guard and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and after that by employing a number of Shiite militias, which left the Syrian arena wide open to regional conflicts. However, it is also true that the opposition, both politically and militarily, did not work to strengthen its internal structure for a long confrontation with the regime and also to comprise real weight to prevent some of them being used in accordance with the whims of foreign powers. We can say that the opposition in as much as it neglected its internal depth, depended on the widening discontent against the regime, and so lost its power toward the outside world whether in terms of political representation whose weight has receded steadily since 2012, or in military terms, at the same time, where it began finishing off any ambition to establish a collective national military formation.
As we know, since 2012, America’s role in the war began with pressure on the regime to force it to accept a political settlement — this was announced with the administration’s knowledge of the impossibility of achieving it with a regime ready to deliver the country to Moscow and Tehran rather than deliver it to other Syrians, even if they were their successors. It was possible to address this American approach with one of two possibilities: Either achieving swift and influential victories other than those planned and subsequently imposing a fait accompli on the outside, or harmonizing with it to lighten as much as possible the losses and bloodshed resulting from it — that is, by adopting combat tactics expected to do the greatest harm to the regime’s military and security infrastructure while preserving the lives of civilians and their properties.
Obama’s approach has reached its inevitable result which was not difficult to predict — that is, the regime and its allies predominating over the rebel groups. Clinton did not succeed in changing the American approach, as she put forward in her election campaign. It is likely that Trump will continue the approach of his predecessor, but with less hypocrisy. This expected abandonment of the hypocrisy will deprive the opposition of reasons for their inertia around their original tasks, and will withdraw the excuse of the growing dependence on outside powers, not encouraged at any time to protect Syrians.
The new reality puts the opposition before two possibilities. One is to decide to put the solution in the hands of foreign powers who will not displace Assad and decide that the revolution cannot achieve victory without relying on them — or, put another way, declare the final failure of the revolution or its failure through a solution not exceeding superficial powers through which the regime is welcomed into normalizing its relations internationally. The other possibility, and this is the most difficult, is for the opposition to announce the abandonment of the approach it has followed so far, in political and military terms, and proceed to form a national representation for it, not subject, as is the case now, to foreign bickering, or to becoming completely subsumed under its foreign umbrella with its private agenda.
In military terms, the internal fighting of rebel groups in blockaded Aleppo and the rebel groups in the eastern Ghouta shows the miserable outcome of the opposition formations by giving priority to self-aggrandizement over public interest. It is known that bloody incidents of fighting have occurred under suffocating siege and sometimes under Russian bombardment, and that there is no intercession for its “heroes” or some of them with their resistance to the regime. Just as no one intercedes against some of them in arbitrary practices against civilians who share the misery of the siege.
With the recognition that the conditions were not sufficiently positive for the benefit of the revolution, it needs to be recognized that the opposition in all its frameworks has proven its failure over the last five years, and has hung failure on the international forces, and thereby hung hope on the change of the balance of power in the international conflict. The advent of Trump to the presidency is likely to draw the curtain on this era, which requires relying more than before on subjective factors, and inventing means of resistance which are less costly to the revolution, and less dependent on external support, with their ability to prevent the regime from claiming that it has regained control and returned the Syrians to its fold. The challenge is difficult but it is not impossible. In the annals of global revolutions there are many that can be learned from in terms of prolonged political effort, and many that can be learned from regarding qualitative resistance with simple weapons. While the Syrian opposition has demonstrated its inability to read so far, the biggest tragedy will be if it proves its inability to learn.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.