(ANALYSIS) — After only a few days in office and a mysterious drone strike in Yemen, many are wondering just what President Donald Trump’s policy on Syria might be. After all, throughout the campaign, Trump hinted around at a stronger relationship with Russia and a realization that Assad was not only the better option but a major force for fighting terror in the region. This was clearly a good sign.
However, days after Trump has taken office, it is still unclear as to just what position Trump is going to take in regards to both Syria and Russia.
For instance, at around 8pm on January 23, reports began circulating in both the Russian and American press suggesting that Russia and the United States had just completed their first joint airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. One such report came from the Associated Press and echoed what was being reported by much of the rest of American media. It read,
The Russian military says its warplanes have flown a joint mission in Syria against the Islamic State group together with the U.S.-led coalition.
If confirmed by Washington, the mission would represent the first coordinated action against IS by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition. Russia has pushed for such cooperation in the past, but Barack Obama’s administration had refused.
New U.S. President Donald Trump has called for joint efforts with Russia against IS.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces in Syria had received coordinates of IS targets near al-Bab on Sunday “from the U.S. side via hotline with the international coalition headquarters.”
It said Monday that two Russian warplanes and two aircraft of the U.S.-led coalition then struck the targets, destroying several ammunition and fuel depots along with militants and weapons.
The attack followed a joint raid in the same area flown by Russian and Turkish jets on Saturday.
“After conducting reconnaissance…two Russian Air Force planes and two planes from the forces of the international coalition delivered air strikes on terrorist targets,” RIA Novosti agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying. Interestingly enough, the Defense Ministry did not post the announcement on their social media or official websites.
But, within half an hour, the United States military stated that the Russian claims of cooperation were “rubbish.” In fact, an update to the Associated Press article cited above states,
U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a coalition spokesman, almost immediately labeled the Russian claim as propaganda.
U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. does have routine “deconfliction” talks with Russia to avoid unintended aerial incidents in Syria’s crowded skies. But Davis says there have been no changes to that arrangement, and the U.S. has insisted for months that it has no coordination or sharing of targets with Russia.
So what does this mean? Does this mean that the United States policy in Syria is the same as it was before Trump? Has Trump simply not gotten around to changing this policy, despite it being a possible catalyst for World War Three? Does it mean that the mainstream press in both Russia and the United States had bad information?
At this point, we simply do not know.
However, in a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did appear to open the door to collaboration with Russia . . . maybe. “I think if there’s a way that we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it’s Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure, we’ll take it,” he said.
Spicer also hinted that Trump has indeed already ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis in what is to be the Trump administration policy towards Syria so it is not likely that Trump simply hasn’t gotten around to the question yet.
More concerning, however, is the fact that Spicer still hinted at the possibility that the United States is hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. When asked whether or not there is potential for cooperation with Assad in destroying ISIS, Spicer responded, “We’re not going to get together with people under the guise of defeating ISIS if that’s not truly their guise.” He added, “So let’s not take that too far.”
Trump has long had a strange policy toward the Middle East – in one way being pragmatic and logical and in another irrational and aggressive. Remember, when asked about the war in Iraq, he said, “If we kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil. But, OK, maybe you’ll have another chance.”
The recent bizarre news story may be merely a minor blip on the radar or it might possibly be a signal of better things to come. Unfortunately, however, it might also be a signal that American imperialism rages on. To suggest that “Assad must go” or that the Assad government is not fighting terror (especially ISIS) is ludicrous. Such a suggestion is the expression of an alliance with American war policy as it has existed for the last six years under the previous administration. Only time will tell.
Still, we urge the Trump administration to immediately cease and desist funding radical jihadists groups including but not limited to ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army and any other group working under the moniker of “moderate” rebels. We urge this administration to immediately begin talks with both Russia and Syria, establish positive relationships with both and express a desire to step away from the current war footing of the U.S. Lastly, we would encourage Trump and his administration to provide both the Russians and Syrians with coordinates of terrorist groups funded and directed by the United States so that they can finally be eliminated once and for all.
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