U.S. President Trump says his predecessor could have ended the Syrian civil war. All he had to do was follow through on challenging President Bashar al-Assad over chemical weapons.
But could he have really? The latest allegations against Assad raises the question of what Washington should do after another potential round of military action.
CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports.
It was a phrase back in 2012 that defined Barack Obama’s position on Syria:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime and also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized… that would change my calculus, that would change my equation.”
UN investigators have determined that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad crossed that red line multiple times since then—using chemical weapons on civilians.
Obama’s former Syria adviser is among those critical of the former president for not following through on that red line threat- but acknowledges his priority was to avoid derailing the landmark nuclear de-escalation deal with Iran – among Assad’s most ardent supporters.
“I think the President came to the conclusion, the Iranian nuclear deal is the main event here, the jewel in the crown. This is going to change the region,” said Frederic Hof, former Syria adviser to Obama.
The current president, Donald Trump, nevertheless claims Obama could have ended a civil war in its early stages. Seven years on, it has claimed around half a million lives and forced more than five million Syrians to flee their country.
And yet if Trump is enforcing his own red line, beginning with a missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase last year, he appears to want to limit U.S military involvement to eliminating ISIL in the region, also known as ISIS.
“We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS and we will be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it,” said Trump.
But Obama adviser Frederic Hof believes it’s up to Trump to lead in Syria by staying the course in a complex conflict that implicates the entire Middle East and Russia – another Assad supporter.
“When the president did authorize a cruise missile assault on Shayrat airbase, there doesn’t seem to have been follow-up to that,” said Hof. “And I’m not talking about another kinetic operation – rather some kind of a strong message to the Russians in particular: ‘You’ve seen what we’ve done, you need to get your guy out of this business. Not only the business of chemical warfare but mass homicide.’”
In an interview Thursday, Assad said the weekend’s alleged chemical attack was entirely fabricated by the United States and other Western allies to justify a U.S. airstrike on Syria.
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