The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Trump victory comes as a possible relief for the Assad regime in Syria

When it became evident that Donald Trump would be the next leader of the United States, taking over from Barack Obama, there was a certain sense of relief among supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We truly hope the new Trump [administration] fixes the mistake Obama did in empowering Islamists and using terrorism as a political tool and proxy army,” commented Fares Shihabi, a member of the Syrian parliament from Aleppo and a staunch supporter of al-Assad.

The president-elect’s policies may be fuzzy at times, but he has repeatedly voiced his disdain for Syrian rebels, saying many are “radical jihadi Islamists” and warning they will “turn on us.”

“We have millions in our country unemployed yet we are wasting millions arming Syrian ‘rebels.’ What is wrong with Washington?!” Trump tweeted in October 2014.

“Trump won’t enter into new military commitments such as a no-fly zone in Syria or airstrikes against Syrian government forces,” explained Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute think tank.

Moreover, Trump has had some positive things to say about Russian President Vladimir Putin, the key supporter of al-Assad who launched an air campiagn last year to bolster the faltering government forces.

Trump has indicated his support for Putin’s fight against what Moscow calls “terrorism” in Syria, which has targeted Islamic State but lately is mostly focused on rebel groups, including hardline Islamic factions.

The incoming administration will likely maintain the US war on Daesh, which is making progress, though possibly this would be in tighter cooperation with Russia.

“Trump’s victory is wonderful news for Bashar al-Assad,” wrote Perry Cammack, an associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Assad supporters have distributed on social media digitally altered images depicting al-Assad, Putin and Trump together. However, in some senses, the relief was less about Trump’s win and more about Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

Clinton had repeatedly supported a no-fly zone over opposition-held territory. In a private speech to Goldman Sachs, she admitted that under such military action “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”

The leaked copy of this speech jolted Syrians living in government-controlled territories. Syria’s air defence systems are located in urban areas where civilians reside and people felt they could come under attack.

The one consistent element of Trump’s campaign was his focus on immigration to the United States. In addition to his proposal to seal off the border with Mexico by building a massive wall, he at one point touted a total ban on Muslims.

The proposal on locking out all Muslims has since been removed from his website, but there is little indication he changed his overall approach.

In July, he said a vote for Clinton would allow a “massive influx of refugees,” and last year he condemned Obama’s policy to let in about 10,000 people fleeing the civil war, warning that Syrians could be members of Islamic State.

Much of what Obama did in Syria and more generally in the ongoing US military campaigns abroad was carried out by executive order, giving Trump the ability to reverse policies without the need for extensive legislation.

For example, Obama ordered the military to release data on civilians killed by drone strikes. This transparency could disappear.

Where Trump stands on the Kurdish militias the US is backing in Syria against Daesh is still unclear. He did once say he thinks Washington should increase its support for Kurds in the region, without specifying which groups.

Cammack, at Carnegie, admitted “the deep angst most foreign policy professionals are now experiencing” comes from simply not knowing where things are going.

By Shabtai Gold

 the international