Syria is in the midst of a staggering humanitarian crisis, one which much of the world is doing its best to either ignore or take advantage of.
At least 250,000 people have died as a result of the civil war there, which is now in its fifth year. The New York Times has noted that some accounts put the number of dead at nearly twice that total. Almost half of the victims were civilians.
Last year, the United Nations estimated that the conflict has also created at least 4 million refugees, making it “the UN Refugee Agency’s worst crisis for almost a quarter of a century.”
At this point, it doesn’t matter who the good guys are or who is right or wrong or who started it. You’d be hard pressed anyway to find good actors in the Syrian theater if you tried. What matters is finding a way to end the conflict there as soon as possible so that the Syrian people can try to begin — one day — to return to a sense of normalcy.
Donald Trump Jr. held private discussions last month with about 30 foreign Putin supporters. https://t.co/tZR6b3iIfp
— Mark Rector (@markwellsrector) November 25, 2016
President Barack Obama’s policy in Syria hasn’t worked. There’s no point in denying that. In fact, it has been an abysmal failure for the Syrian people.
Before the Arab Spring even came to Syria, the United States had an agenda — as is so often the case — that served U.S. interests rather than those of the people on the ground. We insisted regime change, the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, was a requisite for any peace negotiations until January of 2015, as The Guardian reported at the time. However, as The Lost Angeles Times points out, the future of Assad has remained a sticking point through even the most recent peace talks.
That could change under the presidency of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with pro-Russia diplomats, businessmen, and politicians at the Ritz Paris in France last month is another indicator of that possibility.
Throughout his presidential run, Trump was often criticized for his alleged fondness of — and perhaps even ties to — Russian President Vladimir Putin. Considering the historic rivalry between Washington and Moscow, and the fact U.S.-Russia relations the tensest they’ve been since the end of the Cold War, it’s reasonable to question anyone who seems too cozy with Putin. There are of course other reasons to question such a relationship as well.
When looking at the Syria question, in and of itself, however, greater U.S.-Russia collaboration could potentially reap huge benefits.
Again, it’s hard to find good guys on the ground — or in the air — in Syria. With the exception of perhaps (perhaps) the Kurds, pretty much every faction there has acted in bad faith or committed atrocities or supported groups that “comingle” with terrorists at one point or the other.
That said, we can all agree that some actors there are worse than others. There is one group in Syria that definitely and absolutely needs to be neutralized, and that group is the Islamic State.
The U.S. efforts in Syria have been divided between targeting Islamic State and supporting anti-regime rebel factions like the Free Syrian Army. Russia and the Syrian government, likewise, have split their resources in the conflict between battling the Islamic State and anti-regime forces.
here’s one for the “this is fine” files. https://t.co/HVXdBQGsd4
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) November 23, 2016
If the U.S., Russia, and the Syrian government, along with latter’s Iranian and Hezbollah allies on the ground, all focused all of their energy on the Islamic State, the tide of the war would quickly shift.
It seems like that might be what President-elect Trump is considering. He repeatedly said he wanted to focus on defeating the Islamic State throughout his campaign. He also recently met with U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
“I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government,” Gabbard said in a statement after the meeting, according to NBC News.
Gabbard’s statement suggests Trump is willing to at least entertain the notion of abandoning regime change in order to find a more expedient resolution to the conflict in Syria.
The meeting the younger Trump attended in Paris last month was hosted by a pro-Russia think tank that has “worked closely with Russia to try to end the conflict,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
That, too, suggests a possible policy shift.
During a presidential debate on October 9th, Trump went so far as to openly state he wanted to ally with Russia, Assad, and even Iran in order to concentrate efforts on taking out Islamic State.
“I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” Trump said, according to Politico, again implying that his vision for how to address the Syria issue differs from that of Obama.
None of this is to say that Assad or Putin or Trump are good men. That’s not the point.
And, or course, there is no quick and easy cure-all in Syria either. To be sure, destroying the Islamic State would not lead to an immediate resolution to all of the crises plaguing the country. There are plenty of people there who are earnestly opposed to living under a continuation of the Assad regime. With the Islamic State out of the way though, any potential peace negotiations between the regime and the more moderate rebel forces would be much different.
There are, nevertheless, a lot of ifs and unknowns.
What is known is that the Syrian people can’t continue living in the nightmarish conditions they are currently experiencing, and removing the Islamic State from power in the territories it holds should be a priority of all parties involved.
Obama’s policy has failed to address either of these problems. If Trump decides to move in a different direction, there is some hope that the war may come to an end more quickly. Maybe.
[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]