April 5, 2017

What Trump could do NOW on Syria

Following this week's massacre of civilians by Syrian government forces, using specialized chemical weapons, a friend asked me what President Trump should do at this stage. To recall, President Obama averted military intervention by securing Syrian President Assad's agreement to remove all chemical weapons. While Obama should never have thrown down a red line over Syria's potential use of chemical weapons, it could have been catastrophic for the region and the United States had he backed that up when Assad indeed deployed such weapons. 

To be sure, with Russia and Iran's active support Assad has been committing mass murder and devastation against his own citizens. But until last week's indication by Trump's Secretary of State that the UnitedStates is ready for Assad to remain in office, Assad had avoided using more than off-brand chemicals such as dropping barrels of chlorine.

A friend has challenged me to suggest what Trump should do at this point, beyond empty statements. 

So here are a few ideas:

1. A statement condemning would be a good start. 

2. Countermanding Tillerson's explicit approval of Assad's legitimacy would be even better. 

3. Demand that the Russians cooperate in holding Assad accountable and removing these new stockpiles (which Russia may have itself supplied. 

4. Get ahead of the courts and formally rescind the U.S. ban on refugees from Syria who have already been exhaustively vetted -- and call on European nations to redouble their own programs.

Obama came in on the heels of George W. Bush's obliteration of Saddam's orderly dictatorship, which unleashed the cynical and destructive forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. That same obliteration freed Iran to pursue its goals in Syria largely unchecked. Obama made some missteps, but he did better than average with what he'd been dealt -- and at least he tried. 

Trump may still have a narrow opportunity to minimize the damage from the current situation, but by accepting Russia's dominance and legitimizing Assad, he's already taken a bad situation and made it so much worse.

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