Syria can be Donald Trump's legacy

By Dania Koleilat Khatib
Regardless of what one might think of Trump's connections with the Russians, engaging with the Russians is necessary to find a solution to Syria. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI
Regardless of what one might think of Trump's connections with the Russians, engaging with the Russians is necessary to find a solution to Syria. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- The talks about President Donald Trump's impeachment are looming. The Democrats seem to have a new ammunition as Michael Cohen, Trump s fixer/lawyer, is charged with eight felonies, including campaign finance violations.

Even Fox's Andrew Napolitano said the American public has proof that Trump broke the law. When a Fox News commentator, the media vehicle that vehemently defends Trump, says the president broke the law, the Trump camp should be worried.


However, even if the man goes, the sound policies should remain in the interest of country. One good policy is the one toward Syria. When the Syrian people started revolting against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, then-President Barack Obama said it was time for Assad to leave power as he was standing in the way of the Syrian people toward freedom. However, his big words, translated by the Syrians as promises of help, did not lead anywhere.


His ambassador, Robert Ford, assured defectors of the Syrian army that they would get support. That never materialized. The plan of David Petraeus, the CIA director, to arm moderate opposition was never put into effect. Obama left the "Syrian people" high and dry. The empty promises given to the opposition led members of the Syrian Army to defect, creating the core of the national secular free Syrian army. However, the defectors let down by the United States, having no arms and no financial support, had to chose one of two options. They could either go back to Assad and get executed for deserting the army and rebelling or join the ranks of the well-funded extremists' groups. Most of them chose the lesser evil and joined the ranks of the fundamentalists. In a way, indirectly and unintentionally, Obama's policies have helped the growth of fundamentalism.

With the Trump administration, at least there is more consistency. Despite that his announcements might not be consistent, his policies on Syria are. On March 29, he said he is going to bring his soldiers back home. Three days later, he vowed to stabilize Syria. As a matter of fact, today, the United States is adopting a more balanced and rational approach toward Syria. Whether this policy is the product of Trump's thinking or his team, it does not matter. What matters is this is a policy that can bring a solution, if not immediately, at least sometime in the future.


While Obama's policy created chaos, Trump's policy on Syria is leading to order. Obama's nuclear deal, that was not coupled with any political clause, gave Iran a free hand in Syria. Even John Kerry, Obama's secretary of state, said that some of the funds will be directed to finance terrorists. He also said that the United States has no control over that. Today, Trump does not make big statement like asking Assad to leave, but his policy works consistently on isolating Assad while coordinating and cooperating with U.S. allies. Trump has appointed James Jeffrey, the seasoned U.S. ambassador to Turkey, as United States special representative for Syria engagement. This is a good step, as the United States needs the support of Turkey to stabilize the north and northeast of Syria.

Regardless of what one might think of Trump's connections with the Russians, engaging with the Russians is necessary to find a solution to Syria. Unlike the Iranians, who are in Syria for ideological reasons and there is no way to reach an agreement with them, the Russians are in Syria for influence and economic gains. A compromise can be reached with them.

The United States is working consistently on isolating Assad. The new administration is totally aware that there is no solution in Syria as long as the bloody dictator is in power. They are working on creating a viable economic life in the north and northeast of the country. The Islamic State is almost defeated. The U.S. diplomatic effort was able to prevent an assault on Idlib, which would have been a disaster resulting in an additional million refugees and in other carnage.


As the talks of impeachment re-emerge, it is important for Trump to consolidate his policy on Syria in the State Department, Pentagon, Congress and National Security Council. After all, it does not matter how long one stays in office. What matters is the legacy one leaves behind.

Dania Koleilat Khatib is executive director of the Al Istishari Al Strategy Center for Economic and Future Studies, a UAE-based independent think tank. She specializes in U.S.-Arab relations and researches sectarianism, extremism and governance. Her book "The Arab Lobby and the U.S.: Factors for Success and Failure" was published by Routledge UK and translated to Arabic.

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