Daniel R. DePetris
Security, Middle East
With the Trump administration celebrating its first anniversary, this much is obvious: American politics has changed in remarkable, disturbing, cringe-inducing ways. But many things have not changed, like the bloody, unholy pit of despair that has defined Syria for the past seven years. The violence may no longer be at its peak, but it is still sufficiently terrible that UN humanitarian and refugee officials blast out press releases predicting a man-made apocalypse if the Assad regime does not allow aid workers unfettered and unconditional access to the millions of civilians a few short weeks away from life-ending malnutrition. Bashar al-Assad, of course, has no intention of doing so, nor does he particularly care about the international community’s pleas for mercy.
Indeed, at the same time that Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian troops and pro-government militias are in the process of bombarding Idlib to eliminate even the most token resistance, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the sunny campus of Stanford University trying to convince everyone in attendance that, yes, the Trump administration does have a Syria policy. The White House is not twisting in the wind as it is commonly portrayed in the mainstream media. Instead, it is focused on doing what the Obama administration failed to do: using U.S. military might to pressure the Russians, who in turn would pressure the Assad regime to negotiate a peace settlement to the seven-year conflict. “We recognize Syria presents many complexities,” Tillerson told the crowd in attendance. “Our proposed solutions will not be easy to achieve . . . we will seek to de-escalate the civil war in Syria, work for peace, and encourage all parties to head to the negotiating table.”