The Dallas Morning News
For allies, U.S. policy still hazy
British foreign minister floats idea of more strikes
LUCCA, Italy — Seeking support from abroad, the U.S. struggled Monday to explain a hazy Syria strategy that has yet to clarify key questions: Whether President Bashar Assad must go, how displaced Syrians will be protected and when America might feel compelled to take further action.
Successive attempts by top Trump administration officials to articulate a plan have furthered the appearance of a policy still evolving, even after the U.S. broke with precedent last week by attacking Assad’s forces. In the absence of answers, other countries seem to be moving ahead on their own terms.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, after a meeting in Italy with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, floated the possibility of new sanctions on the Syrian and Russian militaries, an idea the U.S. has only briefly mentioned. In an unusual announcement for a foreign government, Johnson also said the U.S. could launch more cruise missiles into Syria like the ones President Donald Trump ordered last week in reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
“Crucially, they could do so again,” Johnson said.
Tillerson himself raised fresh expectations for aggressive U.S. action — and not only in Syria — as he visited Sant’Anna di Stazzema, a Tuscan village where the Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during World War II. As he laid a wreath, he alluded to the Syria chemical attack.
“We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” Tillerson said.
Though such comments hint at a more activist U.S. foreign policy focused on preventing humanitarian atrocities, Trump has consistently suggested he prefers the opposite approach. His young administration has generally downplayed human rights concerns while promoting an “America First” strategy deemphasizing the concerns of foreign nations.
The uncertain view of U.S. objectives prevailed as Tillerson planned to attend a meeting Tuesday of the “like-mindeds” — countries that share a similar approach to resolving Syria’s protracted civil war. The session on the sidelines of the Group of 7 summit in Italy was to include Middle East countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates that share a U.S. interest in resolving the conflict and resisting Iran’s influence in Syria.
Tuesday night, Tillerson will fly to Moscow, the first official visit by a Trump Cabinet official to Russia, Assad’s strongest ally. The U.S. has said its Syria strategy centers on persuading President Vladimir Putin to stop supporting Assad. On Monday, the U.S. upped the stakes significantly by accusing Russia of knowing in advance of the chemical attack and using a Russian-operated drone to help cover it up.