Trump’s Syria policy so far: Demonizing Syrian refugees

Ruthanne Sikora 2017-03-02 12:02:00

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During his presidential campaign, the US President Donald Trump seemed to believe that ending the war in Syria would be a simple matter and that all the American people needed to do to fix the problem that Syria and Syrian refugees presented was to get him elected.

But Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs writer for The Washington Post, nailed it in a recent article when he said: “So far, the most meaningful role played by President Trump in the miserable conflict in Syria has been his relentless demonization of Syrian refugees.”

While Trump continues to focus on finding ways to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., innocent men, women and children continue to be targeted by the Assad regime and Russia within the borders of Syria.

In spite of Trump’s confidence during his campaign that he could fix what is happening in Syria if given the chance, the actual complexity of the situation is not nearly as simple as fighting over oil and promoting the self-interests of the Military Industrial Complex as he believed at the time.

Trump also indicated during his campaign that his assessment of Assad was much closer aligned with that of Putin than with the majority of western world leaders who view him as a brutal dictator who would go to any lengths to hang onto power.

Sooner or later, the Trump administration, which is still struggling with the formation stages of a cohesive system of governing, will need to take a long hard look at the mounting evidence of atrocities committed by the Assad regime and decide what policy would best serve to his mantra of making America great again.

In reality, the evidence that atrocities were being committed by the Assad regime was already plentiful and readily available to the former administration since the revolution began in 2011. Obama failed to do a very good job of dealing with it himself which was the source of immense frustration for some of his top military advisors and State Department officials.

Tharoor cited another Human Rights Watch report issued last week on the regime’s alleged use of chlorine bombs in east Aleppo during its campaign to retake the remaining opposition controlled area of the city..

But once again the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in its attacks on civilians is nothing new.

A UN investigation into the deaths of more than 1300 civilians in East Ghouta in 2013 had gathered enough evidence to conclude that the regime was responsible for the fatal sarin gas attack but at the time Syria had not yet signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention that banned the use of sarin.

Syria’s signing of the treaty was part of the deal Obama negotiated in 2013 with Russia wherein the Assad regime was also required to hand over for destruction its stockpile of chemical weapons. 

Chlorine was not included on the list of chemicals to be surrendered because of the fact that it has many other household uses but the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the “use in war” of “asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases” along with “all analogous liquids, materials or devices”. 

If converted into lethal gas and used to kill people, chlorine falls within this broader definition of what constitutes a chemical weapon and its use by the Assad regime is a violation of the Geneva Protocol which Syria also signed in 1968.

By his continuing acquiescence, if not outright directive, towards the addition of chlorine gas to the bombs being dropped on civilians in Syria, Assad has become the first ever to break both the Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Another independent report released in February by the Atlantic Council, entitled "Breaking Aleppo" also confirmed the use of chemical weapons in addition to utilizing satellite imagery, eyewitness accounts and surveillance footage from cameras in strategic areas to recreate images of the regime’s widespread and deliberate targeting of civilian areas in the city, including hospitals, schools and bakeries.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International also published a report about extrajudicial executions being routinely performed in a military prison where the majority of detainees are political prisoners and civilians who are arrested, tortured and sentenced to death without due process of law.

As usual Assad denied the claims and laughed at the information contained in all of the reports in interviews conducted with him after they were published.

He also made his own claims during a recent interview about Syrian refugees being terrorists which is not at all surprising since he refers to all Syrians civilians he has been targeting in his brutal self-serving war as foreign backed “terrorists” including infants, children, the elderly, journalists and doctors as well as medical and rescue workers.

“The irony is that the Assad narrative seems welcome in the Trump White House, which has made clear it’s not interested in fomenting regime change in Syria and simply wants to tackle the threat of the Islamic State,” wrote Tharoor.

Trump’s latest proclamations regarding Syria include the establishment of “safe zones” inside the country which he now says will be financed by the Gulf States after being informed by his military advisors about the exorbitant cost of keeping such zones secure in the event they can be established in the first place, which is doubtful.

Trump’s motivation for establishing “safe zones” most likely has more to do with justifying his policy of not accepting refugees and “sending them back where they came from” than it does with providing a legitimate solution to what is causing Syrians to flee the country in the first place.

But as Assad continues to protest the violation of Syria’s sovereignty by foreign powers it is not likely he would stand by and allow safe zones to be established within Syria’s borders without putting up a fight.

Assad’s main objective for the past six years has been to rid the country of as many of his opponents, or potential future opponents — which is why he has no problem targeting children — as possible, and he is not at all likely to sit still while measures are taken by Trump or anyone else to ensure the safe return of those he has already successfully driven out of Syria.