Nearly a year into Donald Trump’s administration, the president has followed the track laid down by his predecessors in Syria, accelerating it in some cases, and reinforcing the negative trends of Barack Obama’s defective policy that will undo even apparent successes, like the destruction of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) “caliphate”.
It did not have to be this way, and Trump started out by indicating a break with Obama’s policy, despite his campaign rhetoric, which indicated a distinct similarity to his predecessor’s view of the Syria conflict.
It seemed just possible from the moves in the early months of the administration that Trump, or at least his advisers, understood the problem with Obama’s plan for defeating ISIS, which was creating political conditions favourable to ISIS and ignoring the much more serious problem of the Iranian regime expanding its power in the region by, among other things, capturing the territory from which ISIS was being displaced.
In February, Trump paused the offensive against Raqqa, the ISIS “capital” in eastern Syria, recognising that the plan to openly arm the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the name under which the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) operates in Syria, to take and hold the city with some dependent Arab units attached to their force as political cover, was “inadequate”.
There were signs that Turkey, against which the PKK has run a terror-insurgency since 1984, was being lined up as the partner force for the U.S.-led coalition in liberating Raqqa. Given the views of the local people, the Turkey option seemed far more likely to produce the kind of locally legitimate government that is needed to attain the durable stability that will keep IS down. Other more sensible options were also said to be circulating within the administration at the time.
Trump’s most decisive break with Obama came in April, after the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad attacked the town of Khan Shaykhun with nerve gas, murdering more than 80 people.
Read more at Ahval.