After firmly uniting behind regime change in Syria on the 6th of April, the Trump administration is yet again openly displaying signs of disorganised foreign policy chaos over Syria.
Nikki Haley spoke to CNN on Sunday stating that regime change is the penultimate goal of America’s operations in Syria. In the same statement she said one of America’s goals is also to push Iran out of Syria. So for Haley, it is both a war on Syria and a war on Iran.
Rex Tillerson who on the 6th of April said that ‘steps are under way’ to prepare for US led regime change in Syria, has appeared on CBS and has yet again changed his tune. This is of course the same Tillerson who on the 30th of March said that regime change is off the table.
On the 9th of April, Tillerson spoke to Face The Nation on CBS, where he appeared to back down from regime change and even detailed, quite accurately, the folly of such a policy, the kind he endorsed three days earlier and the kind Nikki Haley endorsed on the same day as Tillerson’s interview.
During the interview with John Dickerson of CBS, Tillerson spoke of America’s apparently re-discovered opposition for regime change in Syria in the following way,
“I think, you know, obviously, the United States’ own founding principles are self-determination. And I think what the United States and our allies want to do is to enable the Syrian people to make that determination. You know, we’ve seen what violent regime change looks like in Libya and– and the kind of chaos that can be unleashed. And, indeed, the kind of– of misery that it enacts on its own people.
I think what we’re hopeful is through this Syrian process, working with coalition members, working with the U.N., and in particular working through the Geneva process, that we can navigate a political outcome in which the Syrian people, in fact, will determine Bashar al-Assad’s fate and his legitimacy”.
Tillerson then appeared to endorse a political peace process for Syria rather than violent regime change, he even said that Russia ought to be involved.
“…it’s important that we keep our priorities straight. And we believe that the first priority is the defeat of ISIS. That by defeating ISIS and removing their caliphate from their control, we’ve now eliminated at least– or minimised a particular threat not just to the United States, but to the whole stability in the region. And once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilising the situation in Syria.
We’re hopeful that we can prevent a continuation of the civil war and that we can bring the parties to the table to begin the process of political discussions. Clearly, that requires the participation of the regime and– with the support of their allies, and we’re hopeful that Russia will choose to play a constructive role in supporting ceasefires through their own Astana talks, but also, ultimately, through Geneva. And if we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilisation in Syria, then I believe-we– we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process”.
Rex Tillerson will of course shortly be in Moscow, that could explain his statements seeking to defuse tensions with Russia.
But at this stage, that explanation alone is no longer sufficient to justify the contradictions which arise when Haley and Tillerson’s statements are contrasted.
Donald Trump may not actually know what he wants and if he does, he has not clearly articulated it to his representative who are sending out dangerously confusing mixed signals.