President Donald Trump is doing the right thing in foreign policy. And he is doing it well. I owe the president an apology, because I didn't believe he would follow a foreign policy that would advance our interests and our values.
I am guilty of having made assumptions. Having listened to Trump's public statements before becoming president, I assumed the following: (1) A Trump administration would refuse to support NATO, putting the security of the free world at risk by tempting the Russians to attack Europe; (2) Cries for human rights would fall on deaf ears, debasing our moral standing and creating an atmosphere where evil regimes could commit ever-greater atrocities with impunity; (3) Trump would be susceptible to disinformation that confuses the pursuit of American foreign policy objectives.
I have never been so happy to have been proven wrong.
Far from weakening NATO, Trump has expanded it. By shepherding the admittance of Montenegro into the alliance, Trump has ensured that NATO now commands the entirety of Europe's Mediterranean coastline. With the president firmly "committing the United States to Article 5" (Press Conference, 6/9/17), NATO is stronger than ever before. Russia had a fit about it, but Trump did it anyway.
In April, Trump proved that there would be consequences to violations of human rights when he fired 60 missiles at a Syrian airbase to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for use of chemical weapons. "Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically," said the president. "As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies." So he acted, and declared in a clear statement of principle that "we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail."
Assad is now afraid to conduct such an attack again. A mere warning from the White House has brought preparations for another chemical attack to a halt.
Russia has spent a fortune on propaganda telling the world that all opponents of Assad are ISIS or worse, and that all the massacres that they commit are therefore necessary and even noble. But, as Trump wrote in "The Art of the Deal" 30 years ago: "You can't con people, at least not for long." When the moment of truth came in April, Trump proved that he could see through the deception.
While Assad and his allies insist that they are fighting ISIS, they have ceded large areas of southeast Syria to ISIS and have left them largely untouched. Instead, their firepower is focused on the Western part of the country, where rebels who are both anti-ISIS and anti-Assad operate. There is a reason for this. In 2015, Assad gave a speech in which he declared that the Syrian army "cannot fight on all fronts out of fear of losing control in certain areas, [and therefore] we relinquish [certain] regions in favor of important areas under our control." In the final months of the Obama administration, ISIS territory in Syria was expanding while Assad and Russia were simultaneously carpet bombing the city of Aleppo (starting with the hospitals). The resistance to both Assad and ISIS was all but destroyed.
Now, less than half a year later, a U.S.-backed rebel coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and Kurdish fighters have forced ISIS into full retreat. ISIS is currently losing control of their capital, Raqqa, as SDF rebels with the support of American airpower and Special Forces are taking the city neighborhood by neighborhood. Trump has gone the extra mile to defend these anti-ISIS forces. When a Syrian regime fighter jet attacked the SDF on June 18, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E shot it down.
Trump has said repeatedly that he would like to see a safe zone where civilians can flee and where Syrian refugees can return. The liberation of southeast Syria from the scourge of ISIS presents such an opportunity. Assad was willing to let ISIS have this territory, so he has no moral right to demand these areas back from SDF and Kurdish fighters who were willing to fight for them (and who won't gas the people who come to them for safety). Such an accomplishment may finally, at long last, bring the Syrian civil war to a close.
Syrian refugee Kassem Eid writes, “ISIS thrives on hopelessness and international passivity to convince its fighters to seek revenge instead of justice.” By taking action, Eid writes, Trump has done more to fight the Islamic State “than his predecessor did in six years. He has now given the Syrian people hope that the U.S. will stand for human rights and freedom.”
The bad guys are running scared and the good guys stand tall. I was wrong about you, Mr. President. You truly are making America great again.
Follow Spyridon on Twitter at @SpyridonM.