Trump Praises Soviet Russia, Terrorist Iran, and Syrian Assad Regime – Riles GOP Experts
Foreign-policy leaders challenge the assertion that all three regimes are playing a positive role in Syria.
Almost any list of America’s top foreign [enemies] would include Iran, Russia and the government of Syria.
Sunday night, Donald Trump spoke approvingly of all three.
Trump infuriated Republican insiders—and contradicted one of his own senior foreign policy advisers—when he suggested that those three governments are playing a positive role in Syria’s civil war.
“I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” Trump said when asked about his plans for Syria. He was referring to the country’s president, Bashar Assad, and using an acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Although Trump has argued before against intervening in Syria, and often calls for cooperation with Russia against ISIS, his statement Sunday night was particularly blunt—and underscored the huge gap between Trump’s views and mainstream Republican thinking.
Trump’s position also contradicted the view of one of his senior foreign policy advisers, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who stepped down as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.
“When it is said that Russia would make an ideal partner for fighting Radical Islam, it behooves us to remember that the Russians haven’t been very effective at fighting jihadis on their own territory, and are in cahoots with the Iranians,” Flynn wrote in his recent book, “Field of Fight.”
“In Syria, the two allies have loudly proclaimed they are waging war against ISIS, but in reality the great bulk of their efforts are aimed at the opponents of the Assad regime,” Flynn adds in the book, co-written with the conservative policy analyst Michael Ledeen, who has also been identified as a Trump campaign adviser.
After the debate, other experts called Trump’s claim factually and even morally dubious, arguing that Assad’s continued grip on power, with the support of Tehran and Moscow, makes it harder to defeat the radical Islamic group.
“ISIS wouldn’t be there but for Assad,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
“For Assad, Iran and Russia, ISIS is at most a secondary enemy: The real enemy is the Syrian opposition (which they are crushing) and the Syrian population (which they are intimidating as brutally as they can),” said Eliot Cohen, a former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an email. Both Cohen and Pletka strongly oppose Trump.
Trump presented the situation differently. “Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS,” he said. That echoes Assad’s consistent claims that he is a heroic bulwark against radical terrorism, and not fighting a popular insurrection with ultimately peaceful goals.
Trump’s comment also put him at odds with his own running mate, Mike Pence, who argued in last week’s vice presidential debate that the U.S. should consider using “military force” against Assad if Russia continues to support Syrian forces with airstrikes in Aleppo. “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree,” Trump said.
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, supported the view that the Assad-Iran-Russia axis is not playing a significant role in the anti-ISIS fight.
“The U.S.-led coalition does the lion’s share of the fighting against ISIS,” Tabler said. He noted that the Syria government has recaptured only about 2 percent of the country’s territory since Russia intervened on its behalf. Little of that is in ISIS-controlled areas.
Trump’s comments underscored his striking disregard for many core assumptions both parties share about American foreign policy. President Barack Obama repeatedly criticizes Assad, Iran and Russia for their joint military campaign against Assad’s foes, saying they are breeding extremism. Many GOP leaders, meanwhile, criticize Obama for not doing more to fight back against the Tehran-Moscow-Damascus axis. Virtually none beside Trump openly argue that those countries are playing a positive role in Syria.