Mixed messages on Syria
President Trump's decision last week to launch a targeted airstrike in Syria certainly got the attention of the world. But four days later, the same big question remains: What comes next?
So far, we've gotten mixed messages from the White House about what the U.S.'s long-term goals in the region will ultimately be. Where exactly is the Trump administration on regime change in Syria?
If Assad must go, what's the role of the United States in creating that change? Can ISIS and Assad be addressed at the same time or not? Here's what we've heard in the last 48 hours from administration officials:
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- U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Meet the Press: "In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government. And we have to make sure that we're pushing that process. The political solution has to come together for the good of the people of Syria."
- Haley on CNN: "Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria."
- Tillerson on CBS: "[W]e believe that the first priority is the defeat of ISIS, that, by defeating ISIS and removing their caliphate from their control, we have now eliminated at least or minimized a particular threat, not just the United States, but to the whole stability in the region. And once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria."
- National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on FOX: "[W]hat Ambassador Haley pointed out is it's very difficult to understand how a political solution could result from the continuation of the Assad regime. Now, we are not saying that we are the ones who are going to affect that change. What we are saying is, other countries have to ask themselves some hard questions. Russia should ask themselves, what are we doing here?"
And, of course, it's also worth noting that — before last week's strike — both Haley and Tillerson appeared to suggest that ousting Assad was not a top focus for the United States at all. The waters are muddy here, and it's complicating the way forward for an administration that hoped to take advantage of a show of decisiveness last week. By the way, all these questions remain as Tillerson is set for talks in Moscow this week, where he's indicated that he'll take a hard line against Russia's ties to Assad.