Donald Trump has given Vladimir Putin a win in Syria by withdrawing America’s support from the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad.
The Washington Post reports that Trump made his decision a month ago, before he met Putin at the G20 in Hamburg.
Russia and the United States seemed on the verge of a confrontation at the time. America had shot down a regime fighter jet that was attacking its allies in Syria. Russia responded by suspending a military hotline with the United States.
It supports Assad, calling him a bulwark against terrorism.
Trump shared Russia’s view during the 2016 presidential campaign. He repeatedly cautioned Barack Obama, the man he succeeded in January, not to draw the United States deeper into the Syrian conflict. (That probably helps explain Russia’s support for Trump’s campaign.)
Yet only three months into his own presidency, Trump ordered a cruise-missile strike against a Syrian air base from which he said Assad had launched a chemical attack.
Now he is switching back to a more Assad-friendly policy again.
The enemy of my enemy is not my friend
Neither Assad nor Russia is an ally against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria, which Trump has described as a far greater threat than it is.
It was Assad who helped create the Islamic State by killing everybody else who resisted his tyranny.
From the beginning of the uprising in 2011, the Syrian leader maintained that the choice was between him and madness — and he made sure madness prevailed on the other side.
Russia has done little to help defeat the Islamists. Its warplanes have targeted Assad’s less fanatical opponents in the vicinity of his Alawite homeland on the Mediterranean coast.
If anything, Russia wiped out what little was left of the “moderate” opposition, which the West supported.
Remaining non-Islamist rebels include Kurds and Turkmen in the north.