Syria after ISIS: A dangerous power vacuum
With ISIS on its last legs, “the great Muslim civil war” is entering a new and perilous phase, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. The jihadist group’s so-called caliphate in eastern Syria is collapsing fast, leaving a power vacuum that the Middle East’s rival superpowers are now battling to fill. Iran hopes to create a “vast arc” of Shiite power stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, and so is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime retake ISIS territory. Sunni giant Saudi Arabia is backing the Arab rebels fighting Assad—who, in turn, is supported by Russia as it seeks to regain its own great-power status. Then there is the U.S., led by the hapless President Trump, said Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com. As a candidate, Trump vowed to stay out of Syria’s messy civil war. Yet through sheer impulsiveness, he has dramatically escalated U.S. involvement—repeatedly striking Assad’s forces in recent weeks in defense of U.S.- backed rebel groups fighting ISIS. With Russia now threatening to target U.S. warplanes flying in the Syrian regime’s airspace, Trump could be sleepwalking into “a major war.”
Trump’s strategy is “a work in progress,” said Frederic Hof in Newsweek.com, but then he inherited a complete mess from his predecessor. President Obama believed Assad’s war against the rebels in western Syria could be separated from the American-led air campaign against ISIS in the east. So he looked the other way as Iran built its influence and “Assad slaughtered his own people.” Now that ISIS is nearing defeat, that dividing line is crumbling—forcing Trump to adopt an aggressive new strategy “addressing all of Syria.” If Trump succeeds—and that’s a big if—the result will be a major win for U.S. interests, said Max Bloom in NationalReview.com. His tactical strikes on pro-Assad forces could stop the dictator from regaining control of the entire country, dealing a blow to America’s strategic adversaries: Russia and Iran.
But are those goals really worth the risk of a “potentially cataclysmic clash” with Russia? asked Ted Galen Carpenter in NationalInterest.org. Trump’s original instincts were right: Syria is a mess, and it’s doubtful any outside country will ever end the war, “much less restore a stable, united country.” If Moscow wants to own this chaotic situation, “let them have it.” Much better that Syria become Russia’s next Afghanistan than “another Vietnam or Iraq for America.” ■