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Winners and Losers of the US-Russia Deal on Syria

The agreement isn't a 'win' for all parties. Here's what some experts are saying.

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Winner: Vladimir Putin


Aaron David Miller notes that Putin has "already achieved his minimal objectives: The chemical weapons wildcard that triggered the crisis and perhaps threatened Assad's tenure is being dealt with. Obama won't strike unilaterally, and there will be no U.S.-orchestrated regime change (see: Iraq and Libya)."

Robin Wright adds that Russia has "struggled to rebuild Moscow’s status on the world stage since the Soviet Union’s demise."

This context provides perhaps the biggest win for Putin, says Miller: "Putin is now seen as a dominant and potentially positive force on the international stage."

Winner: Bashar Assad (with an asterisk)


The agreement makes Syria's President the "guarantor of a process running well into next year and even beyond," says Wright.

Miller puts it more bluntly: "implementing the chemical weapons arrangement will require keeping Assad in power. For now, that's a win for Syria's president – as is avoiding a military strike – even if he loses a strategic asset."

Miller is careful to note, though, that there is the issue of how this impacts Assad's relationship with Russia, which has been an ally: "Assad can't be certain where Moscow is going or what kind of future deal Putin might be tempted to strike with the Americans."

Winner: The Obama administration


Both as a political and a policy matter, the agreement is being seen as a win for the administration. The American public was uneasy with the prospect of strikes on Syria, and the "potential slippery slope of even limited intervention" should ease fears about Syria turning into another Iraq.

"Until now," writes Miller, "Obama had three options on Syria, all of them bad: do nothing in the face of the largest single use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them against the Kurds; develop a comprehensive military strategy, including arming the rebels with serious weapons; or take the middle road of a limited strike."

"Now, the president has a fourth option: avoid military action and maybe get Assad's chemical weapons offline, weaken him, and perhaps, in cooperation with the Russians, initiate a broader process to end the civil war."

Winner: Iran


"For Iran, a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons crisis is far preferable to a military strike," says Miller. "Like the Russians, Iran probably fears the impact of repeated strikes. Once the glass ceiling on military action is broken, the pressure, and even expectations, for U.S. action might rise. For now, that's no longer a concern."


On the one hand, the agreement to put the chemical weapons into international hands makes it less likely that Hezbollah or jihadis will get control over them, notes Miller.

On the other hand, they are worried about Iran going nuclear. "Did Obama's willingness to forego military action signal to Iranians that he is unwilling to use force against their nuclear assets should they push to weaponize? Does America's deep aversion to using force against Syria mean that, a year from now, neither Congress nor the public would consider and support action against Iran, too?," asks Miller.

Loser: the Syrian Rebels


The Russia-US deal is "a huge setback for Syrian opposition fighters, who were hoping to take advantage of the degradation of Assad’s arsenal that would have accompanied a U.S. military strike," says Robin Wright. The rebels "hoped to take advantage of the battlefield psychology of U.S. intervention."

Miller suggests that the deal "puts to rest any hope that the Obama administration will soon ride to the opposition's rescue." Assad is now viewed by the international community not only as the problem, but as part of the solution.

Loser: The Saudis


For the Saudis, this is, in some ways, about religion; here's Aaron David Miller:

"For them, this is a sectarian struggle that pits the Shiite forces of darkness against the forces of light: their version of Sunni Islam.... Saudis in particular are concerned that this will constrain Obama from dealing forcefully with the Iranian nuclear issue when the time comes. (This outcome will only encourage the Saudis to intensify their support for the opposition.)"

Loser: Interventionists


Syria's Civil War has been a humanitarian disaster, with millions of refugees and more than 100 thousand people killed in the war (including more than 5,000 a month since July 2012).

Robin Wright calls the agreement "a setback for interventionists who favor greater U.S. involvement on Syria, where 99% of the deaths have been from conventional weapons."