April 12, 2017
After launching 59 Tomahawk missiles against Syria, many lauded President Trump for taking action by sending a clear message to the Assad regime that future chemical attacks, will not be tolerated. Tactically, it was the right move after seeing images of children and innocent civilians killed by Sarin poisoning. Strategically, it is unclear what the end goal is and the policy of Trump’s administration in Syria.
As a private citizen and candidate, Trump criticized America’s role in Syria, arguing that Syria was not U.S. problem. He Opposed Obama’s interventionist approach and at a point, advised President Obama not to get entangled in Syria’s civil war. But less than 100 days after becoming President, Trump has involved America in the Syrian conflict, opening a new confrontation with Russia.
In response to the strikes, Russia has suspended the de-confliction channel US and Russia militaries use to ensure they did not clash, while fighting ISIS in Syria. The US strikes has also fractured the hope of normalizing relations with Moscow, a goal the Trump administration made one of his campaign promises despite warnings from Democrats and Republicans that Russia remains a US enemy. Now that the Trump administration has done what Obama did not do in Syria, many are wondering if Trump’s goal is regime change or the destruction of ISIS.
For more than a decade, Putin watched, as the US remains a global power with its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Russian leader looked for every chance to put Russia back as a player at the global stage. The first opportunity came with the occupation of Ukraine, leading to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Despite criticism by the West and US sanctions targeted to punish Russia for its actions, Putin remains unmoved, while maintaining his hold on Crimea.
The second opportunity came in Syria after Assad crossed the “red line” and the Obama administration chose not to punish the regime. Putin decided it was his chance to maintain Russia’s presence and power in the Middle East. The Obama administration wanted Assad removed and fearing regime change and what Russia considers US hegemony in the region, Putin jumped at the chance to protect the regime from being overtaken by the Syrian opposition, backed by the United States. Though, Russia would later claim its actions in the country are directed to ISIS and other terrorist groups.
By supporting the regime, while at the same time maintaining a base in the country, Syria has become Putin’s war. The Russian leader now believes protecting the Syrian government from regime change and ISIS takeover, is a “thing of pride,” that could once again establish Russia as a global power in parity with the United States. Syria must be the testing ground for Russia’s warfare, just as Iraq and Afghanistan are US battlegrounds. Allowing the US to decide who runs Syria is no longer in Russia’s interest, though, Putin wants to normalize relations with the Trump administration. With the nation now in total chaos, the question is what to do in order to find peace?
To deescalate the Syrian conflict, global powers must be prepared to make conciliation. The Trump administration must first decide on its strategy and plan for the war-ravaged nation. So far, it is unclear whether the goal is to deal with ISIS or regime change, though, it seems the US is now considering deposing Assad. Russia on the other hand, has made it clear that its intention is to protect the regime and destroy ISIS.
Globally, the Assad regime has become unpopular. Most Syrians believe Assad has lost the legitimacy to rule and think the only way to peace is a new leadership without the troubled leader. It is now clear that the future of Syria is uncertain as long as Assad remains in power. If the goal is to remove Assad, the US must be willing to use diplomacy in dealing with Russia to avoid a clash of interests.
Any forceful removal of Assad without first defeating ISIS would be a waste of time. Both nations must first focus attention on the terror organization and other groups in the region to achieve any success. Crippling ISIS is key to finding solution in Syria, any attention on the regime at this time will allow ISIS to regroup and provide the opportunity for it to find shelter, while maintaining its hold on Syria.
After degrading ISIS, both nations must work to set up a coalition and inclusive government of all Syrian ethnic groups, with remnants of the Assad regime and the main opposition in Syria. Meanwhile, Assad must remain as leader pending a new agreement. In doing these, the US and Russia must avoid the same mistake made in Iraq, where Baath party members and remnants of Saddam military were let go without consideration. The same people later joined Al Qaeda and other terror groups with presence all over Iraq till this day.
After forming the coalition government, the US and Russia must work with the new Syrian leadership on a timeline for Assad to relinquish power. This is achievable by having a new election in which new candidates from the different groups forming the coalition are able to contest without the participation of Assad.
While the Syrian conflict remains complicated, it is not impossible to find peace if both Russia and the US have a shared will to reach a lasting peace. By considering the solutions above, both Russia and the US get to protect their interests in Syria, while at the same time allowing Assad to save his pride with a peaceful exit from leadership in Syria.
Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. He is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment,’ ‘Criminal Law-Homicide’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available on Amazon. Follow on Twitter @san0670.