Is US foreign policy changing?


Mustafa Tuncer

When Bashar Al Assad killed nearly 100 people with chemical weapons in Syria three days ago, the question on everyone’s mind was how will the US President Donald Trump react?

Last week, the Trump administration had stated that the Syrian people will decide the fate of Assad. It seems that Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent people was a test of Trump’s strength and resolve.

Trump’s reaction was fast. First, he stated that the Assad regime should not be killing innocent children, and then referring to the Obama administration, he said we must act rather than just talk and then proceeded to attack Syria’s Sayrat Air Force with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Many Sunni Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, saw this as a decisive victory against the Assad regime and find this as a shift in U.S. foreign policy.

The question is, what will the U.S. do now? In other words, will the U.S. change its 6 year-long position on the civil war in Syria?

We must remember that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attacked Assad’s military base. Tillerson stated that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack and that required decisive action. Tillerson, in his recent speech, emphasized that his predecessor was ISIS in Syria, that Assad’s role in Syria was over, and that the civil war in Syria must end to enable a political transition.

Meaning, Tillerson validated Trump’s excitement from these last couple of days. In fact, it is a pity that there will be no change in U.S.-Syrian policy. The US thinks that if the area is to be evacuated from Assad, it will become controlled by ISIS. In this context, the US has no intention of giving any validity to the insurgency, or filling it with dissenters.

What is overlooked in Turkey when understanding this attack is Trump’s position in the White House. Now that he is in office, he is under pressure by congress, democrats, intelligence and the media and is trying to control the agenda by citing a new scandal almost every day while he tries to get adjusted to his new role in the White House.

In this process, Trump’s biggest problem is his charisma and rash action.

Trump’s assault on Assad’s military base, in spite of Russia’s support of the Assad regime, opens up a new space for him and is also a response to criticism that he is being controlled by Putin’s.

Although Trump is happy to be take action against the Assad regime, let’s misunderstand; Trump attacked the military air base that Assad had evacuated hours before, and killed a number of soldiers who would not attack the U.S.

In other words, the US attack was not an assault on Asad’s military maneuvers in Syria. We do not anticipate that the US will continue the attack and shoot Assad at different military bases.

In short, the US had drawn a line for Asad, which he crossed with this attack. Trump will try to garner support over this attack, in the coming days, and act on Obama’s red line.

It is too early to say if there will be any changes in US foreign policy regarding Syria, but Trump has shown through his attack that he is not under the influence of Russia by establishing his role as “policeman”, and the line that he draws cannot be passed.