Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke at Stanford University Wednesday afternoon about the future of Syria and the US role in the war. In his talk entitled, "The Way Forward in Syria," Tillerson once again reiterated the US desire to eventually see President Bashar al Assad removed from power while also pledging US commitment to staying in Syria in order to counter Iran's influence in the region.
Ultimately, according to Tillerson, "the Unites States will remain in Syria" until certain conditions are met which include the complete destruction of ISIS, Assad's removal from power, and the return of refugees to a stabilized country.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke alongside former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Stanford University on Wednesday. Image source: KGO-TV
The talk - which was seen as the clearest articulation of Trump's future strategy in Syria thus far - comes after the Pentagon announced plans on Sunday for the US coalition in Syria to establish a 30,000-strong new border security force with the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which many analysts see ultimately as a US commitment to the partitioning of Syria along ethnic and sectarian lines. Currently there are over 2,000 US troops in Syria according to recent Pentagon statements.
Notably, Tillerson also articulated President Trump's plan for US personnel to stay in Syria to complete "stabilization initiatives in liberated areas" while simultaneously on the international front waging economic war against the Syrian government. "We will discourage economic relationships between the Assad regime and any other country," Tillerson said. "Once Assad is gone from power, the United States will gladly encourage the normalization of economic relationships between Syria and other nations."
Keep it simple: Yes, there were some catchy phrases and blunt attacks on Assad and Iran but there wasn’t really Anything new here. For all practical purposes, nothing will change tomorrow after this speech. pic.twitter.com/p7HJUAig4Z— EHSANI2 (@EHSANI22) January 17, 2018
Assad has in recent days called for an end to the US and all foreign presence in Syria, and has also repeatedly vowed to liberate all parts of the country. China, Iran, and Russia also stand poised to engage in massive reconstruction efforts and investment, which international organizations have estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
The Secretary of State further peppered his comments with criticism of Iran, saying that "through its position in Syria, Iran is in a stronger position to extend its track record of attacking U.S. interests, allies, and personnel in the region. It is spending billions of dollars a year to prop up Assad and wage proxy wars at the expense of supporting its own people." He further asserted as part of the prepared remarks that, "For many years, Syria under Bashar al-Assad has been a client state of Iran. A Syrian central government that is not under the control of Assad will have new legitimacy to assert its authority over the country."
Tillerson says that "the Unites States will remain in Syria" until certain conditions are met. 1. ISIS destroyed 2. Assad gone 3. Refugees return https://t.co/zjqCQZzvnf— Joshua Landis (@joshua_landis) January 17, 2018
Though Tillerson was aggressive in his anti-Assad and anti-Iran rhetoric, he stopped short of calling for military efforts toward regime change, claiming to desire de-escalation and diplomatic efforts at winding down the war. Yet at the same time he called for a new government: "The re-assertion of national sovereignty by a new government, along with de-escalation efforts and new flows of international aid, will lower violence, set better conditions for stability, and speed up the departure of foreign forces." It was merely as recent as October that Tillerson said the "reign of the Assad family is coming to an end."
He said the current administrations strategy will seek de-escalation, political transition, and economic stability while avoiding the pitfalls of nation-building. Tillerson said of past "mistakes" in the region, "We will not repeat the mistakes of Libya. Well-intentioned military interventions, independent of stabilization and political strategies, can have a host of adverse unintended consequences.
He continued, "For this reason, we will seek to de-escalate the civil war in Syria, work for peace, and encourage all parties to head to the negotiating table. Continued fighting will likely lead to worsened humanitarian conditions, more chaos, and increased regional military intervention in Syria. Our focus is to build a positive political path forward that honors the will of the Syrian people and sustains the unity and territorial integrity of Syria."
Ironically, Tillerson spoke alongside former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of the chief architects of the Iraq War and authors of chaos there, out of which ISIS was born.
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Nah.... doesn't sound like nation-building at all, does it?