What did Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin talk about during their hour of unchaperoned chat? This might be part of it.
President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.
Trump may have thrown a few missiles into Syria as one of his weekly distractions, but in the end, he doesn’t want to get in the way of letting Putin and Assad maintain their brutal regime.
Continuing to arm the rebels at this point is probably futile, as Russian intervention in Syria vastly changed the equation that existed when the U.S. program began under President Obama. Russia has focused its efforts not on taking out ISIS, but on crushing the moderate Muslims who were trying to form a modern government with the aid of the U.S. and allies. But there was a huge disparity: America was willing to put troops into Syria. Russia, unimpaired by two decade-plus wars, put lots and lots of boots, planes, and tanks on the ground.
Trump’s dealings with Russia have been under heavy scrutiny because of the investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. The decision on the CIA-backed rebels will be welcomed by Moscow, which focused its firepower on those fighters after it intervened in Syria in 2015.
But Trump is halting the program with no sign that anything was gained from the Russians. The Washington Post story suggests that Trump decided to close down the program a month ago, before heading into his first meeting with Vladimir Putin.
It’s always nice to bring a gift.
President Obama sought permission to make a strike in Syria on multiple occasions, but held back without Congressional support.
In one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency, Mr. Obama effectively dared lawmakers to either stand by him or, as he put it, allow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to get away with murdering children with unconventional weapons. By asking them to take a stand, Mr. Obama tried to break out of the isolation of the last week as he confronted taking action without the support of the United Nations, Congress, the public or Britain, a usually reliable partner in such international operations.
But that gamble failed, as Republicans decided they’d prefer to give a victory to Assad rather than Obama.
The program to begin arming Syrian rebels was launched at around the same time, but having demonstrated that Obama didn’t have the backing to take action, Russia moved into Syria in force in 2015. Within months, what had been almost certain victory for advancing rebels was turned into a series of crushing defeats. While Russia made some air strikes against ISIS positions, they reserved the bulk of their attention and troops for pressing the rebels that threatened Assad.