Hours after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a visit to Turkey that the fate of Syrian President Assad should be decided by the Syrian people – reversing the Obama administration’s demand that Assad must go as part of any Syrian peace settlement – Nikki Haley, the US’s ambassador to the UN, has confirmed that there has indeed been a change in US policy, and that the US is indeed no longer ‘focused’ on getting President Assad to go.
Previously, when discussing Secretary Tillerson’s comment, I had warned that it might be a slip. Haley’s comment shows it was not, and that US policy has indeed changed.
Haley’s comments were made in a meeting with reporters in New York on Wednesday. This is how Reuters reports them
You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out…Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No. What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria…We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did. Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.
Reuters reports another unnamed Trump administration official saying the same thing. Referring to Haley’s comments, Reuters reports him saying that they reflect
…….a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground. … Assad is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country … Our focus is on defeating ISIS and al Qaeda and preventing Syria from being used as a terrorist safe haven.
These comments, taken together with Tillerson’s comment in Turkey, confirm that the attempt to achieve regime change in Syria has ended, if only for the time being.
This is the first formal departure the Trump administration has made from the foreign policies of the previous Obama administration since President Trump was inaugurated President on 20th January 2017.
A word of caution is in order. The fact that the unnamed Trump administration official is reported to have told Reuters that President Assad “is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country” strongly suggests that the policy in Washington, now that regime change in Damascus has been abandoned, is to partition Syria, so as to create pro-US enclaves in Syria’s northern and eastern regions.
This is a deeply unpopular policy with most Syrians, and is certain to provoke intense resistance not just from President Assad’s government but from people all across Syria.
If this is indeed the Trump administration’s new policy in Syria then it means that though the regime change war in Syria may be over, the Syrian conflict itself is far from being so.