After Hezbollah and the Syrian Army sacked Aleppo, reports emerged of indiscriminate barrel bombs dropped on the city’s population and numerous executions of civilians. With the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Shiite militias, Russian airstrikes, and the terrorist group, Hezbollah, the Syrian Army has made major gains over the last few months.
In response, the Obama administration provided words rather than actions, continuing to be a bystander to the slaughter. Over the course of Obama’s presidency, American allies in Syria such as the Free Syrian Army and various Kurdish groups, namely the Lions of Rojava, have not received the support they need to compete with Assad, Putin, and Hezbollah.
However, remarks by the new administration signal a major change in America’s Syria policy. President Trump has called for the establishment of no fly zones in Syria to protect civilians and outgunned rebels from the air-power of Syria and Russia, negating the chief advantage of the regime and its allies. He has suggested that the Gulf States would be willing to fund this venture. Vice President Pence backed this approach, without addressing payment, during the Vice-Presidential Debate.
Yesterday, the White House announced that King Salman of Saudi Arabia had agreed to the general details of this proposal during a phone call with President Trump. President Trump also spoke with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi on the same subject.
Initially, similarities between this proposal and the promise to make Mexico pay for the wall may have aroused some skepticism about the seriousness of Trump’s remarks. However, the recent success of this plan arises from the common interests of the United States and the Gulf States, as well as historical precedent.
For example, President George Bush Sr. succeeded in securing funding for the First Gulf War from our Gulf State allies, since our intervention removed a national security threat to Saudi Arabia and liberated another Gulf State, Kuwait, from Saddam Hussein.
In this case, I believe that Trump has recognized that the result of the Syrian Civil War will have massive repercussions for the Gulf States. Iran and Hezbollah would lose a critical ally if the rebels defeat Assad, while critical supply lines between the two would be severed. Additionally, the Sunni Gulf States hope to empower the Sunni majority in Syria, as they are a more likely ally than the Shiite minority which currently rules there.
On the other hand, a regime victory would leave Assad in place, deeply in debt to Iran for his survival . The Gulf States’ goal of isolating Iran would suffer as the threats to the national security of Saudi Arabia and its allies multiplied.
The success of President Trump’s recent calls to the Gulf States should allow him to provide critical protection to rebel forces fighting not only the Syrian Regime, but also terrorist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. By identifying the common interests of the Gulf States and the United States, Trump can avoid the massive spending which characterized the efforts of Bush and Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan.
American no fly zones can change the calculus on the ground since most of Assad’s gains have been heavily supported by aerial bombing. While the Syrian Government and Russia have resisted the proposals of the previous administration, Trump could force them to return to the negotiating table by creating a stalemate between the rebels and the regime. Whether the ultimate solution is the division of an irreconcilable Syria or the formation of a transitional government without Assad, Americans should greatly appreciate that our president is willing to take action to prevent the spread of Iranian influence and end a conflict that has already cost half a million lives.