CNN offers a man-on-the-street view of the Syrian civil war, showing residents of the mostly Shiite town of Nubl, close to the Turkish border, celebrating the ejection of rebel forces by dictator Bashar Assad’s troops. Citizens displayed photos and banners of Assad, as well as photos of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran.
“Thank you Russia! Thank you Hezbollah! Thank you Iran!” shouted one resident as he passed the CNN crew.
“Allah, Syria, Bashar, and nothing else!” another group chanted.
Worse, the rebels ejected from Nubl and nearby al-Zahra were not the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s crew in Syria. Some of them were forces linked to the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, which the Obama administration once fantasized, foolishly and very expensively, about arming and training into a force that could beat Assad, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State.
Now that the Syrian rebellion is almost over, it will mostly be a mop-up operation for the Russians, Iranians, and government troops after Aleppo falls, and the rest of the world will help them take down the Islamic State. Defeated rebels will not be remembered fondly, including those backed by the U.S.
A soldier who fought on Assad’s side to recapture Nubl bluntly warned the families of rebels to “encourage them to look for reconciliation or, I say, they will be killed.”
As the CNN piece stresses, the fighting around contested Syrian towns was brutal, with a tendency to settle into siege warfare that left civilians without food or medicine. Syrian troops interviewed for the article blithely dismissed Secretary of State John Kerry’s talk of a “cessation of hostilities,” confident that Russia would continue bombing the rebels into oblivion. The rebels seem increasingly resigned to that fate as well.
In fact, a CNN update from Tuesday morning had Assad essentially mocking the idea of a cease-fire agreement with his decimated enemies: “We hear about them requesting a ceasefire within a week. OK, then who is capable of bringing together all these conditions within a week? No one. Who will speak to the terrorists if a terrorist organization refused to adhere to the ceasefire, who will make them accountable? Who, as they say, will bomb them?”
That was a rhetorical question, because Assad has a very good idea of who will be bombing them. He repeated his definition of a “terrorist” as “anyone who bears weapons against the state and against the Syrian people,” and declared this judgment “indisputable.”
Meanwhile, far from embracing a cease-fire agenda, the Russian air campaign is escalating, heedless of civilian casualties. The U.N., France, and Turkey called these Russian strikes on civilian hospitals and schools “war crimes” and “a blatant violation of international laws,” but those are just words. The man on the street in northern Syria knows the score. So do the rebels who thought Barack Obama had their backs.