With “respect to Syria,” said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”Obama's view of the conflict from 2014 is well outlined below - in addition to the video at the "this exchange" hypertext above. Though this commentary is mostly about IRQ, the mindset applies to SYR as well.
That gave a clear signal that we were not going to do anything, and it let what "moderate" forces that were there know that if they wanted to fight Assad, they would need to look elsewhere for support. That somewhere was AQ and IS.
Sad thing is that Obama in many ways is correct in the above video ... if you are talking about domestic Western democratic politics. His advisors never were able to explain to him that this isn't how things work in the real world.
The world is largely a place governed by the application of and threats of hard power. Outside the Western democracies, the world aligns more with the Russian world view than the Brussels world view.
Without any leadership from the USA, the fate of the Syrian opposition was firmly in the hands of what the Russians and Iranians could do to prop up Assad. The fate of Aleppo was, with each passing day, just a matter of time.
All the talk of "aid to civilians" was just virtue signaling. For thousands of years it has been known that there is no such thing as "aid to civilians" in a siege. The garrison feeds first.
"Cease fire?" That is only useful to buy time to negotiate surrender. With the besieging forces having clear supply lines, the only thing left is the calendar. As my ancestors found out in Vicksburg, if there is no army on the way to help lift the siege, your fate is sealed.
So, Aleppo today in two maps.
First, where things stand after the fall of eastern Aleppo:
Now, zoom in on the old city;
This is what an endgame looks like. With the citadel fallen, the rest is just clean up. We are close to or well in to the "no-quarter" phase of the fall of Aleppo if garrison doesn't surrender.
Was staying out of the Syrian conflict the right call? Yes, but perhaps not in the national credibility shredding "red line" way that we did it.
There is still time, now that Russia has helped Assad clean up his front lines, to work with the Russians to eliminate the Islamic State.
PLAN SALAMANDER proposed over a ago still applies; use the Kurds as an anvil; Russia and Syria move from the west and north; USA and Iraqi forces move from the east and south. Iraqi forces stop at the IRQ-SYR border, let SYR and her allies do the ground work inside SYR while we do what we do best from the air and SOF.
Best we can do? Keep the Turks out and help Kurds help themselves in the post-war settlement from a position of strength.