Will the war in Syria never end? Will the international proxy war and stand-off between Russia, the United States, Iran, and Israel simply continue to drift on, fueling Syria's fires for yet more years to come? It appears so according to an exclusive Washington Post report which says that President Trump has expressed a desire for complete 180 policy shift on Syria.
Only months ago the president expressed a desire "to get out" and pull the over 2,000 publicly acknowledged American military personnel from the country; but now, the new report finds, Trump has approved "an indefinite military and diplomatic effort in Syria".
The radical departure from Trump's prior outspokenness against militarily pursuing Syrian regime change, both on the campaign trail and during his first year in the White House, reportedly involves "a new strategy for an indefinitely extended military, diplomatic and economic effort there, according to senior State Department officials".
This even though one of the Pentagon's main justifications for being on Syrian soil in the first place — the destruction of ISIS — has already essentially happened as the terror group now holds no significant territory and has been driven completely underground.
But most worrisome about the Post report is that sources said to be close to White House policy planning on Syria suggest that Trump has made a commitment to pursuing regime change as a final goal.
Crucially, the report describes that "the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community."
Of course, there's the glaringly obvious issue of the fact that the most powerful top competing "alternatives" to the current government in Damascus include groups like Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which currently holds Idlib and is under direct allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri (as recently confirmed in the US State Department's own words).
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
The shift stems from the White House's re-prioritizing the long held US desire for the complete removal of Iranian forces from Syria. There's reportedly increased frustration that Russia is not actually interested in seeing Iran withdraw, despite prior pledges as part of US-Russia largely back channel diplomacy on Syria.
However, the Post report quotes a top Pompeo-appointed official, James Jeffrey, who is currently "representative for Syria engagement" at the State Department, to say that U.S. policy is not that “Assad must go” but that immense pressure will be brought to bear, and in terms of future US troop exit, “we are not in a hurry”.
“The new policy is we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year,” Jeffrey said while noting the mission would largely shirt ensuring Iranian departure. He also indicated to that Trump is likely "on board" on signing off on "a more active approach" should there be direct confrontation with either Iran or Russia.
It goes without saying that such a significant policy shift makes the possibilities of just such a confrontation — or perhaps "provocation" — over Idlib all the more dangerous considering it now appears Trump may now be looking for an excuse to act, which would provide the usual convenient distraction from problems at home.