There is not yet any clarity with regard what Donald Trump would do about Syria once he becomes President. Virtually everything about the incoming administration is in the “wait and see” phase. Still, on the current evidence, Trump’s Syria policy would appear to be a continuation of President Barack Obama’s policy of prioritizing the threat of the Islamic State (IS) and other non-state Sunni jihadist groups, while effectively aligning with the pro-regime coalition, made up of Russian air power and a ground force led by the Islamic Republic of Iran, stitched together out of the battered remnants of Bashar al-Assad’s army and his sectarian militias, Iranian paramilitary and regular forces, and foreign Shi’a jihadist groups under Iran’s control. The only potential difference is that Trump may formally repudiate the anti-Assad forces. The effect of this would be to destroy the mainstream Syrian opposition and empower al-Qaeda, but it would not bring stability to Syria. There are hints, however, that Trump is recruiting senior officials who will alter this policy.
Trump’s Stated Views of Syria
In an interview on CNN with Erin Burnett in September 2015, Trump said:
Now we have ISIS. And ISIS wants to go after Assad. … You have Russia that’s now there. Russia’s on the side of Assad. And Russia wants to get rid of ISIS as much as we do, if not more. Because they don’t want them coming into Russia. And I’m saying why are we knocking ISIS, and yet at the same time we’re against Assad? Let them fight. Take over the remnants. But more importantly, let Russia fight ISIS if they want to fight them. … The problem is, the [opposition to] Assad, we have no idea who they are. … I mean, maybe it’s worse than Assad. So what are we doing? … We have to get rid of ISIS, very importantly. But I look at Assad, and Assad, to me, looks better than the other side.
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