Donald Trump and Syria
In this article, we shall look at the position taken by United States President Donald Trump with regards to the Syrian Conflict. We shall examine the statements that Trump has made pertaining to Syria, and also any shifts of position regarding Donald Trump and Syria.
Trump and the Syrian Conflict
During the Republican and Presidential debates, Donald Trump, as well as other US presidential candidates–were asked about what their position on Syria was, and what would their actions be in the country if they were to be elected to the top political and military post in the United States. During these debates, Trump repeatedly spoke about fighting the Islamic State, but said very little about Bashar Al Assad, or a belief that Al Assad would have to leave power. In fact, one can look back to 2013 to see Trump’s opposition for any military involvement in Syria, even with evidence of chemical weapons. In a BBC video below, it shows Trump’s 2013 tweets regarding Syria, urging then United States President Barack Obama not to become militarily involved in Syria after a reported chemical weapons attack.
In fact, just days before a major shift in Trump’s policy on Syria, members of the Trump administration spoke about the conflict, and how removing Al Assad from power would not be a priority within this government.
What changed however was the chemical weapons attack believed to be carried out by pro-Al Assad forces against civilians, killing over 80 people (although there has been debate as to whether ample support exists to suggest that the attacks were carried out by the Syrian government).
Trump’s actions in Syria were supported by many American allies, although criticized by not only the Al Assad regime, but also Russia.
As one can imagine, the positions taken on Trump’s military strikes in Syria depends in large part of what the actors’ interests themselves are in Syria. So, countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel came out in support of Trump’s actions. Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy interests are rather aligned with those of Trump and the United States, and any airstrikes that weaken not only Al-Assad, but in turn his allies (particularly Iran) are welcomed by Saudi Arabia. Israel and the United States not only have a multi decade relationships, but Israel is interested in the Syrian conflict in so that Al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran don’t gain more power, and also that Syria does not allow weapons to be smuggled into Lebanon and Hezbollah. Turkey has also criticized the Al-Assad rule.
However, other country leaders were much more critical of Trump’s military strikes in Syria. As expected, the Syrian regime condemned the US attack, as did Russia. Furthermore, Iranian leaders also spoke against the US strike in Syria. For example, Iran went as far as to call the “”unilateral action” as “dangerous.”Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi warned the strikes would “strengthen terrorists,” further complicating the situation in Syria” (Karam & El Deeb, 2017).
Again, similar to Russia and Syria’s position, Iran would be opposed to any action that goes after Bashar Al-Assad’s forces.
Is This A Reflection of Donald’s Trump’s Future Syria Policy?
Given the quick change of opinion with regards to US actions in Syria, it is quite difficult to know exactly what Trump’s position on Syria will be in the upcoming weeks and months. However, there has been some indication that the U.S. bombing might be just the start of more to come if need be. For example, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke on the issue, saying that the US response could be more with regards to their actions in Syria (CNN, 2017).
What caught so many people off guard was that this action seems to be in direct contract to what Trump’s message of “America First, ” which “signaled a rejection of international engagements and from his September 2016 declaration that the US “cannot be the policeman of the world” (CNN, 2017).
As to why Trump changed his position on Syria,
White House press secretary Sean Spicer addressed reporters wondering about Trump’s evolution in thought on Friday, explaining that Trump was moved by footage of Syrians, including children, dying of symptoms related to nerve agent poisoning.
“He was very moved and found the event extremely tragic, so I think from the get go it was very very disturbing and tragic and moving to him,” Spicer said.
Spicer outlined the timeline for the decision-making process. He said Trump asked for more information on the chemical weapons attack on Tuesday morning and was presented with military options during a Tuesday-evening meeting of National Security Council deputies. The NSC principals met on Wednesday afternoon and discussed three options for a response.
Trump then met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and decided to act (Engel, 2017).
In addition, it was also reported that “Trump made a statement after the strike and noted that “even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.” “No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” he said” (in Engel, 2017).
Variation from Obama’s Syria Policy
Trump’s willingness to strike Syrian targets following the reported chemical weapons attack is in contrast to that of former President Barack Obama, who, despite the declaration that using chemical weapons would cross the “red line,” did not choose to carry out suck strikes.
However, what should be noted is that up until his shift in position to attack, Trump himself (before his presidency) was adamant about President Obama not getting the United States involved in Syria. Erica Gonzales at Harpers Bazaar wrote a piece on the many times Trump’s earlier statements on Syria advocated no intervention.
What Does This Mean for the US-Russia relations?
One of the other questions is whether this strike against Syria is a shift in more combative relations between the Trump administration and Russia, who continues to be a staunch ally of Assad in Syria. In fact, following the chemical weapons attack, ”
Top Trump administration officials are warning that Russia could be held accountable for the Syrian government’s chemical attacks against its own civilians — with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accusing the Kremlin of “covering up” for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“You saw this terrible tragedy on innocent people, a lot of them children,” Nikki Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And the first reaction from Russia wasn’t, ‘How horrible.’ It wasn’t, ‘How could they do this?’ It wasn’t, ‘How did this happen?’ It was, ‘Assad didn’t do it, Assad didn’t do it.’ Why was that the reaction?” (in Stableford, 2017). She went on to say, “
“First of all, it cracks me up that Russia can say those things with a straight face,” Haley said. “I mean, truly, it is amazing that they continue to cover for Assad. And it’s very telling and it’s not putting Russia in a good light at all in the international community” (in Stableford, 2017).
(Haley’s interview on Meet the Press can be seen above).
Haley’s April 7th speech at the Untied Nations stressed the frustration with the Syrian regime, and also the blame places on other countries such as Russia and Iran as well.