Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Sunday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal it’s time to accept that Syrian President Bashar Assad is going to remain in power.
For Gates, the reason why Assad won’t be unseated is because Americans don’t have the will to indulge the serious military action necessary to battle not only Assad, but the Russians.
“I think we have to begin by being realistic,” Gates said. “Assad is going to remain in power, and the Russians are committed to that.”
Gates’ comments throw even more cold water on the prospect of U.S. engagement in Syria to take out Assad, a much-favored option of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The comments align with GOP President-elect Donald Trump’s approach, namely that it’s unwise to continue the fight against Assad by supplying rebels with sophisticated weapons and training.
As Trump has noted, “we have no idea who these people are” in reference to the rebels. While Trump has issued a definitive pronouncement on Syria, all of his pre-and-post campaign rhetoric has tilted in the direction of abandoning the rebels and instead perhaps working together with the Russians to finish off what’s left of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal in early November. “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria.”
In the gap between the close of the Obama administration and the rise of the Trump administration near the end of January 2017, Assad has pushed even harder to wipe rebels off the map in Syria. Russian and Iranian forces have made big strides into eastern Aleppo, which is still under rebel control, albeit less so by the week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed to Trump that the two work together in Syria, but officials from the Obama administration, remembering their disastrous dealings with Moscow, are skeptical any progress can be made because of Russia’s duplicitous nature.
As CIA director John Brennan noted just last week, Russia has taken advantage of negotiations with Assad and the rebels to bolster the regime, while the U.S. sits on the sidelines and waits for the outcome of diplomacy.
“I think President Trump and the new administration need to be wary of Russian promises,” Brennan told the BBC.
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