I wanted America to complicate Russia's intervention in Syria. Indeed, since Russia invaded Ukraine I've believed that we should help Russia's victims of aggression send Russian body bags home to demonstrate to the Russian people the price of Putin's glorious adventures.
Despite Russia's limited success in stemming what might have been imminent defeat and helping Assad finally recapture Aleppo, Russia wants to leave on a high note (before the next battle for Aleppo begins):
Compared with Iran, which is committed to achieving a total military victory regardless of cost, Russia is less willing to remain involved in an open-ended conflict in Syria and would rather withdraw while its campaign is at a high point. The war in Syria is far from over. Even as the loyalist forces were winning the battle for Aleppo in December 2016, they lost the city of Palmyra to the Islamic State, a significant defeat. As the fighting grinds on, Russian defense planners are realizing that a military solution would likely require years of additional intervention. But years of further involvement in Syria would erode the current perception of Russian military effectiveness and could embroil Moscow in a Middle Eastern quagmire not unlike the United States' situation in Iraq. Russia is looking for a way out.
Russia is sending away the first forces, although this is kind of funny:
The initial phase of the Russian "draw-down" involves the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its naval group, which has hardly played a major role in the fighting. Russia's stated intention is to build up its bases in Syria for the long-term, but Mr Putin may be signalling that in Moscow's view, with the fall of Aleppo and the entrenchment of the Assad regime, one important phase of the fighting is over. [emphasis added]
Indeed. The carrier did not play a major role in the fight. It was a joke. That clunker was figuratively propped up on cinder blocks off the coast of Syria and succeeded only in losing a couple planes in accidents. Nobody on the ground in Assad's forces will shed a tear over or even notice its departure.
So it is safe for Russia to send off--assuming it can limp home without a tow--to give the impression that the war is over.
Does it look like the war is over?
Assad's capture of Aleppo added just a tiny dot on that map. Assad is still just a regional warlord who reigns over sub-regional fiefdoms. Mind you, that may be enough for him given that it looked just 18 months ago that he could be dangling from his heels from a lamp post.
Russia needs America's signature on some piece of paper to win the image of a victory, really, by rubbing our nose in our failure to stop Russia--even if we can be ignored at this point for the actual deal. Putin wants a negotiated settlement to at least get "peace with honor" and a decent interval between Russian draw down and rebel gains in a renewed flare up of fighting once his forces draw down.
Note that part of the capture of Aleppo involved the negotiated departure of rebel defenders rather than a battle of annihilation for the surrounded defenders. So the rebels lived to fight another day even there.
This also shows that Russia and Iran have space between them.
As I've figured, Russia only really needs northwestern Syria to be secured by Assad in order to have naval and air bases to operate in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
I wondered if Iran would settle for that to have access to Hezbollah in Lebanon to have an active front against Israel. But apparently Iran wants Assad to control all of Syria.
That's a major operation considering how long it has taken Assad to secure Aleppo--after years of fighting that destroyed a lot of the city.
But unlike Russia, Iran has been enriched by American policy so can better afford to fight on; and Iran has more opportunities to have others die for Iran through the Shia foreign legion Iran has recruited and sent to Syria.
Is this more expansive aim fueled by the hope that a Neo-Persian Empire could stretch from the Pakistan border to the Mediterranean Sea if Iran can dominate Iraq after ISIL is defeated?
If that is Iran's objective, Iran would need Assad's faction in control of eastern Syria, too.
If we can pull Iraq more fully into our corner after ISIL is defeated--in part by keeping troops in Iraq after Mosul is taken as the current administration has stated is their intent--then the status of eastern Syria becomes irrelevant. Then, Iran might settle for western Syria under Assad's control.
I hope President Trump doesn't try to get a quick "success" by completing the path that President Obama started us down with that idiotic chemical weapons deal that has turned us partially into an ally of Assad, Iran, and Russia, by fully siding with that band of rogues to allow Russia to get out of Syria and which increases Iran's ability to secure satrapies for their new imperial order.