And so, three months after the US State Department famously flip-flopped, when first at the end of March Rex Tillerson said at a news conference that “the longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people” adding that “our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out” only to follow one week later with Tillerson’s warning to Russia that “coalition steps are underway to remove Assad” which in turn segued into the first US attack on Syrian soil with the launch of no less than 59 cruise missiles, the US has done it again and according to Foreign Policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has once again told the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres that the fate of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad now lies in the hands of Russia, and that the Trump administration’s priority is limited to defeating the Islamic State.
The striking reversal was announced during a private State Department meeting last week, according to three diplomatic sources cited by FP.
And, as FP adds, “the remarks offer the latest stop on a bumpy U.S. policy ride that has left international observers with a case of diplomatic whiplash as they try to figure out whether the Trump administration will insist that Assad step down from power. Nearly three months ago, Tillerson had insisted that Assad would have to leave office because of his alleged use of chemical weapons.”
The news, which will again be met with an angry response by neocons like John McCain – as happened in March – signaled the Trump administration’s increasing willingness to let Russia take the driver’s seat in Syria. Tillerson also signaled that U.S. military action against Assad’s forces in recent months is intended to achieve only limited tactical goals–deterring future chemical weapons attacks and protecting U.S. backed-forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria–not weakening the Assad government or strengthening the opposition’s negotiating leverage.
And a startling admission by the website owned by the Slate Group:
Tillerson’s position reflects a recognition that Syria’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, is emerging as the likely political victor in the country’s six year long civil war. It also marks a further retreat from the 2012 U.N.-brokered Geneva Communique — signed by Russia, the United States, and other key powers — which called for the establishment of a transitional government with members of the regime and the opposition. The Geneva pact, according to the Obama administration and other Western allies, was to result in Assad’s departure from power.
When asked for a comment, a State Department official insisted that the U.S. remains “committed to the Geneva process” and supports a “credible political process that can resolve the question of Syria’s future. Ultimately, this process, in our view, will lead to a resolution of Assad’s status.” He added that “The Syrian people should determine their country’s political future through a political process.”
Some more details:
The decision to cede ground to Russia on the question of Assad’s future comes on the eve of President Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting next week with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. It also comes at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to repair relations with the Kremlin despite a series of scandals that have plagued the White House since Trump’s election.
Tillerson said earlier this month that Trump tasked him with repairing the broken U.S.-Russia relationship. The secretary of state has also cautioned Congress that new sanctions against Russia for its alleged role in interfering in the U.S. election could undercut efforts to cooperate with Moscow on Syria.
And this is the part the neocons will hate the most:
Tillerson made clear to Guterres that the U.S. was once again shifting gears. “What happens to Assad is Russia’s issue, not the U.S. government’s,” one source said Tillerson told the U.N. chief in last week’s meeting. Tillerson’s message, the official added, was that “the U.S. government will respond to the terrorist threat,” but that it is largely agnostic about “whether Assad goes or stays.”
Tillerson’s retreat suggests the State Department is willing to skirt the ethical morass of what to do about the Assad regime as it navigates the dense thicket of conflicting alliances fighting in Syria.
“The reason the United States is involved in Syria is to take out ISIS,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Wednesday. “That’s why we care and that’s why we are there.” Fred Hof, former State Department special advisor for transition in Syria, called the Trump administration’s stance on Russia in Syria “confusing.”
He pinned the blame on Trump’s lack of a coherent, overarching national security strategy. “There’s no hymnal that’s supposed to guide how everybody sings,” he said. “The fact that there are multiple voices and stances coming out on this doesn’t surprise me.”
On ceding Assad’s fate to Russia: “It is one thing to walk away from the problem and say let the Russians take care of it,” he said. “It’s another thing to assume you can actually get somewhere policy-wise by relying on the Russians to deliver good results.”
FP observes the anger already building following the latest pivot, mostly among legacy staffers from the Obama administration:
Former senior U.S. officials are vexed by how the Trump administration is ceding political ground on Syria to the Kremlin for almost nothing in return. “The things we’re hearing coming out of the administration have mainly to do with what the U.S. might offer Russia, and not the other way around,” said Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia.
Moscow stands to benefit the most from a slew of contradictory Syria messages coming out of Washington, according to Farkas. Without a clear agenda going into the meeting next week with Putin at the G20, she said, “there’s a danger the president will get outfoxed.”
The latest pivot by the Trump administration back to its stance to before the US president launched missiles at a Syrian airfield for allegedly using chemical weapons on rebels means that it is only a matter of time before yet another staged “chemical attack” is widely publicized by the press, greenlighting yet another escalation of hostilities against the Assad regime, and so on, because to those in the deep state hell bent on preserving the new cold war between the US and Russia, there is no such thing as a discredited narrative.