ANALYSIS – At the end of March, the Trump administration won the approval of anti-war activists and others opposed to U.S.-led regime change efforts abroad when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters gathered in Istanbul that the “longer term of [Syrian] President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” Tillerson’s announcement, at the time, was considered a major departure from the policy of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who had made removing Assad from power one of its key motivations for the country’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.
For that reason, the Trump administration’s dramatic reversal a week later – which saw regime change in Syria become a top priority once again and culminated in Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airbase – came as a shock to many American and international spectators.
Before the shock from Trump’s use of military power against Syria wore off, Trump reversed yet again, telling the New York Post on Tuesday that “we’re not going into Syria. Our policy is the same – it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.” Yet, less than a week prior, Trump had stated that his “attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much.” Trump also told Fox Business on Tuesday that US troops are “not going into Syria” despite the fact that thousands of U.S. troops are already there.
While Trump asserted that his policy in Syria hadn’t changed, Secretary of State Tillerson, in Moscow this week, stated the opposite on the very same day. Tillerson warned Russia that it must choose between its long-standing alliance with Assad or to stand with the U.S. and “like-minded” nations who support regime change, adding that “it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
Watch Tillerson: ‘Steps Are Underway’ to Remove Assad:
Tillerson isn’t alone. In fact, every other high-ranking official in the Trump administration is claiming that regime change in Syria is “underway” – except the President himself, apparently. On Sunday, U.S. envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, said that Syria will not experience peace until Assad is removed from power and called regime change “inevitable.” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster also told Politico on Sunday that the U.S. was eager for regime change.
Then, a day later,, the White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the commonly used “barrel bomb” could be grounds for another U.S. strike against the Syrian government – despite the fact that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has made extensive use of barrel bombs in Yemen without so much as a peep from the Trump or Obama administrations. Either Trump has dramatically failed in keeping his top officials update on the administration’s policies or something else is afoot.
Given that the U.S. has been steadily increasing its illegal ground troop presence in Syria over the past month – which the military admits will stay in Syria long after the defeat of Daesh (ISIS) – and that top generals are calling for even more troops to be deployed, future U.S. action against Syria seems clear. Yet, another indication that the US is set to escalate its presence in Syria after all came on Thursday when Bloomberg reported that Trump is likely to send between 10,000 to 50,000 more ground troops to Syria in the near future, citing senior White House and administration officials.
The Tactic Of Unpredictability
This dichotomy over the administration’s Syria policy begs the question: Why would the Trump administration and the President himself waffle back and forth in their rhetoric in apparent disconnect from one another – especially at a time when all indications point to the clear advancement of U.S. military intervention in Syria? Look no further than Trump’s 2015 book “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America” where he states: “The element of surprise wins battles. So I don’t tell the other side what I’m doing, I don’t warn them, and I don’t let them fit me comfortably into a predictable pattern.”
Trump’s tactic of unpredictability is one of his most touted, an apparent cornerstone of his negotiation strategy with foreign governments, particularly China. As MintPress previously reported, Trump advisor and renowned China expert Michael Pillsbury asserted in January that Trump’s inconsistency with key issues for the Chinese government – from the one-China policy to tensions in the South China Sea – was intentional, intended to keep their leadership off balance in order to give Trump the advantage in order to obtain “once unthinkable” concessions from the Chinese. Recent events suggest that this has been fairly effective, with China bowing to U.S. pressure regarding rising tensions with North Korea.
Now, a few months later, Trump is again using his same tried and true tactic of intentional unpredictability and obfuscation of his true motives against the American people. While Trump himself is claiming that his policy on Syria hasn’t changed – despite saying the opposite in the days prior to the strike – members of his administration are simultaneously saying the opposite.
Trump’s campaign stance on Syria:
While Presidents and presidential candidates in the past have often “flip-flopped,” Trump’s policy change in Syria is not done with the intention of garnering votes or increasing his popularity. Unlike notable “flip-flops” like Hillary Clinton’s reversal on the Trans-Pacific partnership during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s back-and-forth on Syria is changing by the hour – marking it as an intentional move to keep the American public unsure and on edge. With such doubt over whether or not Trump will further escalate U.S. involvement in Syria, opposition to waging a war without congressional approval to create another disastrous vacuum of power in the Middle East is significantly more difficult to coalesce and, thus, less likely to amount any meaningful challenge.
Some, particularly Trump’s most fervent supporters, will be inclined to take the President at his word and continue to believe that he will abide by what he says publicly. However, the fact that Trump has left nearly all of campaign promises behind to rot – including his promise to avoid intervention in Syria – should caution everyone to heed Trump’s actions, not his words.
Indeed, in less than 24 hours this past week, Trump reversed on no less than five core campaign promises including the role of NATO and the future of the Federal Reserve among others. Combined with his earlier abandonment of Obamacare repeal, his tax plan, and NAFTA renegotiation, Trump’s action clearly demonstrate that he is as mainstream a politician as any of his predecessors who will continue to follow the beck and call of the “deep state” over the people who elected him.
With many former Trump supporters now starting to realize that they have been duped, Trump is now using his unpredictability psy-op tactic – which he once promised to use to benefit the American people – against them in order to create confusion and weaken dissent regarding Trump’s transformation from “anti-establishment” politician to a carbon copy of Hillary Clinton.
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