What is next for Syria in Trump’s era?

The American people have spoken and Donald Trump is set to make his way to the White House

Dr. Halla Diyab
Dr. Halla Diyab
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The American people have spoken and Donald Trump is set to make his way to the White House. The man who ignited universal controversy with his infamous statements is now in charge of formulating world policies which might run contrary to American history when it comes to the Middle East region.

So, how can a man who is known for actively seeking to sew division and pour oil on the fire of interethnic grudges and hostility deal with the most challenging turmoil witnessed in the modern history - the Syrian war?

The dynamic of the new American administration’s involvement in Syria should be explored on three main levels: the future of US-backing of the rebels, the destiny of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and America’s future plans to deal with the growth of the terrorist group, ISIS.

Trump has shown a soft spot for the Russians and has said that he will likely end military support to the Syrian Opposition in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday. This puts their territorial advances on the ground at stake.

Trump’s election campaign statement on Syria paid testimony to the fact that these fears are concrete, as the unconventional leader will hesitate before he invests in supporting any insurgent group fighting in Syria due to his obvious cynical view that “defeating Islamic State (ISIS) was a higher priority than persuading Assad to step down.”

The Obama administration’s foreign policy operates on two-fold intervention to topple authoritarian states either directly, like the scenario witnessed in Libya and Iraq, or indirectly, similar to the situation in Syria where the US is sponsoring and backing opposition fighters. On the other hand, Trump’s decision on whether or not to back up the rebel fighters will be based on two things: what is he going to get out of backing them up? What will American get in return?

This holds the possibility, however slight, that Trump might turn the tide favorably toward Assad, who he believes is “much tougher and much smarter” than Obama and Clinton. Trump’s anti-establishment perspective on Syria is formulated by unconventional rules of who can rule, control and endure a chaotic situation like the Syrian situation without causing America further problems. This belief might spur changes in the balance of military power on the ground, pushing the Syrian opposition to resort to other powerful international countries like the UK, Turkey or France.

Trump has a business-man mentality and he will be unwilling to give something for free or simply to fulfil the aspirations of the Syrian people for democracy and freedom. In addition to that, his fears of a “Trojan horse” situation with ISIS weigh heavy and by backing the military conflict in Syria, Trump will be burdening United States with a moral responsibility toward the people who are highly affected by this conflict. Trump’s cynical character will also question the unpredictable opposition’s loyalty. One day a fighter may claim to stand with the opposition and the next they could declare their allegiance to the ISIS.

For Trump, American policy will be about reviving power inside the US first and foremost while Syrian turmoil will remain low on his agenda

Dr. Halla Diyab

If Obama’s administration chose the first option of the two choices which Hilary Clinton detailed in her book, i.e. to “stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there,” Trump would prefer the second option by being complicit when it comes to Syria. He made it clear that the focus is not Syria; the focus is ISIS, and he believes that no fly zone on Syria can drag US into World War III. His leadership of the White House - at least for the coming year - will be an inward looking as he wants to build a better America and wants America to be great again. He is really not interested in championing the political aspirations of the Syrian people. He does not champion the same mind-set of former American leaders who believe that America has the duty to carry the torch of democratic values to the rest of the world. Words like freedom and democracy for all are not in Trump’s dictionary of terminology. He pledged to “rebuild” America and to “renew” the American dream, so his vision is very inward, aiming toward Americanizing the United States.

Who’s problem?

While Syria for Hilary Clinton, as described in her book, is a “wicked problem,” for Trump it is simply not his problem unless it causes him a problem. If this happens, his diplomatic track will be cemented by business-like negotiations with the Russians and the allies of the rebel groups. He will weigh his support to the opposition against the prospect of alliance with Russia to crush ISIS. Trump will not shy away from negotiating with Putin on a new joint-role against their shared enemy, ISIS, something which he viewed as very difficult for Hilary to achieve after she made the Russian president out to be so “evil.” Trump’s political priority is to neutralize ISIS, because they are causing a long-term problem to the security of the United States. His strategy to “take care of ISIS” will be as volatile and as despicable as his outrageous statements. He will not hesitate to shower ISIS’ strong hold areas with bombs and missiles to uproot the extremist insurgency.

The dribbling plan of the American leader against ISIS might not exclude the possibility of renegotiating a place for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the future political plan for Syria. Something which will be read by the Syrian rebel groups and opposition leaders as a complicit approach to the situation, which might strengthen the role of other foreign players involved in the Syrian proxy war.

For Trump, American policy will be about reviving the American identity and power inside America first and foremost while Syrian turmoil will remain low on his agenda. Lowering the expectations of what America will offer to Syria in the upcoming year is the only sensible mind-set required to face the difficult time which the war-torn county will go through.


Dr. Halla Diyab is an award winning screen-writer, producer, broadcaster, a published author and an activist. She has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Leicester. She carried out research in New Orleans, USA while working on her thesis “The Examination of Marginality and Minorities in the Drama and Film of Tennessee Wil-liams”. She holds an MA in Gender and Women Studies from the University of Warwick. She has written a number of scripts for TV dramas countering religious extremism and international terrorism resulting in her being awarded Best Syrian Drama Script Award 2010 and the Artists Achievement Award 2011. She is a regular commentator in the Brit-ish and international media and has recently appeared on Channel 4 News, BBC Newsnight, BBC This Week, CNN, Sky News, Channel 5 News, ITV Central, Al Jazeera English, and BBC Radio 4, to name a few. She is a public speaker who spoke at the House of Commons, the Spectator Debate, Uniting for Peace and London’s Frontline Club. She has worked in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria and is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic culture. As a highly successful drama writer, she has been dubbed ‘one of the most influential women in Syria’ in 2011. She also produces documentary films for UK and international channels. She is also the Founder & Director of Liberty Media Productions which focuses on cross-cultural issues between Britain and the Middle East. She can be found on Twitter: @drhalladiyab


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