Damascus, allies upbeat on Trump win, await policies
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his allies hope to benefit from Donald Trump’s election win, believing it has saved them from the risks of an interventionist Clinton administration. Trump’s win may have already shifted the course of the Russianbacked military campaign in Aleppo. A senior proAssad official told Reuters that plans to capture the rebel-held east by January were shaped around an assumption Clinton would win.
The confidence in Damascus will have been justified if some of Trump’s comments on Syria crystallize into policy, though there are questions over how far he will follow through on suggestions such as cooperating with Russia - Assad’s most powerful military ally - against Islamic State. One complicating factor could be Trump’s tough stance on Iran, Assad’s other main military backer. Trump has threatened to rip up the nuclear deal with Iran and heaped criticism on the sanctions relief it brought. Long-standing Republican aversion to Assad may also block any big policy shift, analysts say. Yet Trump has struck a different tone to current US policy on some aspects of the multi-sided Syrian conflict, where the United States with allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia has backed some of the insurgents who have been fighting to topple Assad for more than five years. Trump has questioned the wisdom of backing rebels, played down the US goal of getting Assad to leave power, and noted that while he didn’t like him, “Assad is killing ISIS” with Iran and Russia. ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.
“This is very comforting for us and our allies in Syria,” said the senior official in the military alliance fighting in support of Assad, who is backed by the Russian air force, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and other militias. “The wave is currently with us, serving our interests, and we must benefit from it as fully as possible,” said the official, who declined to be identified by nationality or affiliation so he could give a frank assessment.
The war has shattered Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by Assad’s state, rebels battling to topple him, a powerful Kurdish militia, and the Islamic State group. It has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and created the world’s worst refugee crisis. While Washington has provided significant support to the opposition, it has never matched the backing given to Assad by Russia and Iran. The rebels have seen US policy as a betrayal of their revolt, with Washington focusing mostly on the fight against IS in the last two years.
Trump ‘a New Factor’ for Damascus
The ground war between Assad and the rebellion has this year focused largely on Aleppo, in the north west of Syria. The government is trying to recapture the rebel-held east of the city, the opposition’s most important urban stronghold. Expectations of a Hillary Clinton win have been shaping military planning in the Aleppo campaign for some time, and the aim had been to conclude the campaign before the new US president took office, the senior official said.
While that is still the plan, the official said Trump’s victory was a “new factor”. Russian President Vladimir Putin would “certainly have a different approach towards the entire Syrian crisis based on what will happen with Trump”. The Syrian newspaper Al-Watan said most Syrians had felt “joy” at the result, and that many had spent the night up following the US election. Trump had no designs in Syria, or the region, it declared. While some in the opposition expressed concern about Trump’s statements and views on Putin, others still hold out hope for a US policy that serves their cause. A senior rebel leader noted Trump’s views on Iran were “positive” for the Syrian opposition. “Today, the role of the United States remains active and essential in Syria, regardless of whether he tries to distance himself from it, he won’t be able to,” said the rebel, who declined to be identified so he could talk freely. — Reuters