Seeing his poll numbers plummet, Donald Trump did what GOP presidents do: attack somebody. But looking closer at the actual strike and the fact that contrary to his “I don’t tip my hand” comments during the campaign, Trump told the Russians and presumably Assad that we were coming.
Assad is a butcher and a war criminal but like Saddam he heads the military that will be necessary to govern when he is gone. We destroyed the Iraqi military and are still picking up the pieces of the broken state.
Simply stated, Trump has no strategy in Syria. Other than doing exactly what Barack Obama had already begun in the final weeks of his presidency, arming the SDF and providing a modest support force, Trump has articulated no individual policy in Syria.
When the jihadists were driven out of Aleppo most went to Idlib to increase the number of anti-democratic religious extremists there. Turkey, along with Gulf Arab states are attempting to establish a Sharia Islamist Sunni state in Syria. This policy was advanced by Hillary Clinton and within days of her loss this policy was fully reversed by President Obama. Now it appears President Trump is signaling his intent to adopt this same flawed Clinton policy.
The US has conducted a number of airstrikes on the same people that Assad is fighting. Now, by attacking Assad in what amounts to a publicity stunt, Trump has succeeded in being at war with just about everyone in Western Syria.
One of the rare successes of US and Russian policy in Syria was the adoption of the Geneva Communique that can be reduced to a simple rule: The resulting government in Syria must be Democratic and Secular. The Islamist rebel forces that Turkey and the Gulf states support are neither. In a multicultural Syria the creation of a Sunni dictatorship that will sweep through the minority areas in a massive bloodbath of retribution can not form the basis for a policy. Whatever happens in Syria, the Syrian Armed forces must play a role in its future for it to have a future.
Russia is a venal criminal enterprise that seeks to project power, rehabilitate the lost geopolitical standing of the USSR and steal any beach front property it can. But Russia has a fragile economy. In this modern world the US’ greatest power sits in the building next to the White House. The Treasury Department with its massive balance sheet is worth 1000 aircraft carriers.
No rational person would argue that Assad can remain. He survives because Russia protects him. The US could reverse the long standing prohibition on political assassinations and remove him but in a world infected with the Russian crime state that is likely to commence a period of international gangland killings. But consistent with the Godfather model, the Putin crime family have to be the ones to remove Assad.
To begin the end of the bloodshed in Syria, Russia must be declared anathema. Dual use embargo plus immediate ban from SWIFT. Diplomats expelled, travel restricted and a crack down on all Russian organized crime. Impair the Russian State’s crime syndicate’s ability to launder its dirty money through western monetary system. Make it clear that the removal of Assad and support for a clear transition from his rule will promptly reverse the sanctions.
Once Assad and his family are gone from Syria, the UN should enter the country to establish the Democratic secular government envisioned in the Geneva Communique. States like Turkey and Saudi Arabia must accept that Syria will remain a secular state. If they don’t then they should be the next counties to target with crushing sanctions.