There is the expectation that with Trump sworn in the US will now shift away from backing rebels in Syria and perhaps look for ways to cooperate with Russia against ISIS. The truth, however, is that by the time Trump was sworn in much of that shift had already taken place under Obama.
US was a crucial backer of Syria’s anti-government insurgency. It’s 2011 rhetoric that Assad is a goner and must go was crucial in convincing the Islamist opposition that a violent uprising could not fail. Later on it was an important supplier of weapons and cash (often in partnership with Wahhabist Saudi Arabia), and in 2013 it came very close to launching an air war against the Syrian state.
However, once it became clear the Russian military intervention in Syria had made rebel victory impossible, US gradually winded down its support.
Instead it gradually grew its war against al-Qaeda in Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra) — which happens to be the vanguard of the anti-Assad rebellion:
- Starting in fall of 2013 US generals behind Obama’s back passed on intelligence to Syria helpful against al-Nusra.
- Starting in fall of 2014 US military at times struck Jabhat al-Nusra leaders — but insisted on masking that fact by claiming the targets were actually “legacy al-Qaeda” and “the Khorasan group” which were supposedly somehow distinct from core al-Nusra.
- The Kerry-Lavrov deal from September 2016 envisioned that after a successful cease fire test period US and Russia would both wage an air war against Jabhat al-Nusra. The deal was eventually sabotaged but it was the first time US had publicly considered a war against the critical part of the Syrian rebellion.
- On November 10 Obama publicly ordered the military to locate and kill off the leadership of rebreanded Jabhat al-Nusra. First drone strikes followed eight days later.
- On his last day as President on January 19th a massive B-52 carpet bombing leveled an al-Nusra base in Syria killing over 100 fighters according to the Pentagon. This has been by far the biggest strike against the group so far.
Obama is never wrong and would therefore never admit to having shifted course, but that is in fact what has gradually taken place.
Even before Trump took office Obama had already taken the US into a ruthless war against the critical component of the Syrian rebellion. The very same rebellion which the US once nurtured morally and materially.
So what does this new policy of bombing al-Nusra rebels say about the old policy of funneling arms, training and money to groups which shared foxholes with fighters who are now deemed terrorists and a threat to the US?
What does it say about the demonization of the Syrian government for resisting the onslaught the US first encouraged but is now fighting herself?
Whether Obama wants it or not sending your B-52s against the shock troops of your own policy is an admission you shouldn’t have interfered in the first place.