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Welcome to Syria, President Trump: Years of Rational Policy Led to This Horror, and There’s No Easy Way Out

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
April 7, 2017


It happened again. Syrian government forces used a chemical weapon against the town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib province. The horrifying photos were too much to bear, especially given the large number of dead children. Social media went into righteous — and appropriate — rage over the latest of President Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes but then quickly deteriorated into point scoring among supporters of President Donald J. Trump and former President Barack Obama. High-dudgeon Twitter is never useful, but it only got worse when the White House released a statement quite rightly calling the attack “reprehensible” and “heinous.” Few failed to notice that the Trump administration’s response to atrocities in Syria sounded a lot like its predecessor’s denunciations of the same. A good time was had by all.

Lost in the Twitter war were some important lessons about the Syrian conflict that Trump, whose administration has seemed content to allow Assad to remain in power, is now forced to confront. Even now, after Trump has ordered up missile strikes, it seems unlikely that the United States will pursue a policy of actual regime change in Syria. Military operations notwithstanding, the Trump policy will look more like the Obama approach than many now expect.

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