“Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” Haley told a small group of journalists, as reported by Reuters. “Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.”
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“We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did,” Haley added.
What makes these statements so peculiar is the fact that they come from the mouth of Nikki Haley herself, a very hawkish and anti-Russian member of the Trump administration. In February of this year, Haley went on an epic rampage at the U.N., condemning Russia for its “aggressive actions.”
What we are witnessing now isn’t a major policy shift, but actually, tactical pragmatism on the part of the Trump administration. For example, consider the fact that the Obama administration was well aware they had almost lost all bargaining power against the Syrian government once the Russian military formally intervened in the Syrian war to bolster Assad in 2015. In that context, continuing the same strategy without escalating a direct war with Russia is nearly impossible, but the stated foreign policy goals of the U.S. military establishment remain the same, namely countering Iranian influence in the region.
It is also worth noting that so-called rebel groups with distinct ties to al-Qaeda have been wreaking havoc across Syria in recent weeks, even in the Syrian capital of Damascus, a major stronghold of the regime. It is not as if the Trump administration has put a direct end to this type of covert warfare, as these rebel groups continue to put added pressure on the Syrian government.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that what the Obama administration hoped to achieve indirectly by targeting Syria, the Trump administration is notably attempting to achieve directly: the takedown of the current Iranian government, Syria’s closest ally.
Regime change in Iran has support from some of the world’s most neoconservative warmongers. Just days ago, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly told the AIPAC Conference that if “[we] had a benign regime in Iran, all of the problems in the Middle East would be resolvable.”
Further complicating this situation is Russia’s stance on Tehran, a position that has been brought into disarray recently amid reports that Russia is siding with Israel and the U.S. to expel Iranian influence from Syria.
As the Trump administration continues to flood the Middle East and Europe with an increasing number of American troops — and as the U.S. Air Force continues to obliterate Iraq — it would be unwise to expect much change in America’s foreign policy, even in the face of Nikki Haley’s statements. Perhaps the U.S. is comfortable leaving a weakened Assad in power and partitioning the rest of Syria, but the ultimate U.S.-Israel goal of taking out Iran appears to remain unchanged.