As of the end of last year, the civil war in Syria had caused the deaths of over 300,000 people and the displacement of an estimated further 11.4 million either domestically or abroad. The nation’s situation is extremely severe and only seems to be getting worse, despite various attempts to restore security. For instance, although there has technically been a ceasefire between Russian and Turkish forces in place since the 30th of December last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights continues to record infractions, most recently this week with regime forces shelling the village of Kafr Ibish and other areas in the southern countryside, alongside other violent clashes. Due to the extremely complex web of combatants and interests embroiled in this conflict, the UN Security Council remains divided on the matter and has, as of yet, been unable to secure a viable path towards peace. Government and allied forces continue to commit war crimes and violate international law, while no viable compromise between the al-Assad regime, rebel fighters, burgeoning Islamist groups, and international interests has become apparent, yet. Thus far, all attempts to cease hostilities have been by and large unsuccessful due to the intricacy and volatility of the situation.
Arguably, most relevant to the continuation of civil war in Syria is al-Assad’s refusal to step down, which has been demanded by rebel forces. Addressed in Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report are allegations of government forces continually killing and injuring civilians and damaging civilian possessions in regions where control is contested. Although Syria held its first ostensibly free election on the 3rd of June 2014, where for the first time there were multiple candidates on offer, Bashar al-Assad, who has been in office since July of 2000, won 88.7% of the vote (in the government-controlled regions where civilians were allowed to cast votes). With that said, the UN, EU, and U.S. government have subsequently dismissed the results as being illegitimate. While the conflict in Syria has now escalated to such a point where the deposition of the al-Assad regime would be unlikely to totally restore peace in Syria, leadership was the crux of this conflict from the beginning, and the fact that it has not been resolved yet is highly significant.
For many, particularly in the United States, the fact that Donald Trump has branded his candidacy as a break from the mores of traditional (and, according to him, ineffectual) politics provided hope for fresh and effective solutions to complex ongoing global and domestic issues, including those presented by Syria. Since his inauguration, President Trump has controversially addressed the perceived terrorist threat from the Middle East by signing an executive order, which suspended entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-dominated countries, including Syria. Likewise, most of Trump’s rhetoric regarding Syria is focused on America’s interests and remains fundamentally impassive toward humanitarianism, to such an extent that Human Rights Watch and Politico have speculated that the U.S. may even leave the Human Rights Council altogether. Trump might help to create safe zones in Syria to prevent refugees from seeking residence in the West and provide military opposition against ISIS, as this argument formed a cornerstone of his populist anti-terrorism campaign rhetoric. But, the new president’s ideological opposition to interventionism means that Trump’s government is unlikely to actively pursue (and thus markedly unlikely to have a significant hand in achieving) peace in Syria. Although for his supporters President Trump might seem to provide solutions to America’s unease regarding the Syrian situation, he does not likely have solutions to the problems in Syria itself.