On Sunday, a US Navy fighter jet downed a Syrian aircraft after the Syrian plane began dropping bombs on Syrian opposition non-ISIS forces. According to CNN:
The shootdown came a little more than two hours after forces allied with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad attacked the north-central Syria town of Ja'Din, which was controlled by the SDF…. "In accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces, (the Syrian jet) was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet," the coalition statement said.
Russia immediately responded by stating that it would target American aircraft operating west of the Euphrates River – and announced that it would cut off the hotline between the United States and Russia allowing the Russians to warn of potential air conflicts. The Russian Defense Ministry announced:
"All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets," the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.
This sets up the possibility of imminent war between the United States and Russia over Syria, if the Russians aren’t bluffing. President Trump warned as a candidate against involvement in the Syrian conflict, and opposed Hillary Clinton’s proposed no-fly zone, stating that, “You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton. You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right?”
Trump wasn’t wrong then, given the Russian stake in Syria. So either Trump believes the Russians are bluffing and aren’t interested in a proxy shooting war with the United States, or Trump has taken a confused position about the situation in Syria and given free rein to commanders without an overarching instruction.
Syria is a genocidal mess. The country is split between ISIS in the east, the Kurds in the north, the Free Syrian Army in the northwest and southeast, and Bashar Assad’s government forces everywhere else. The Russians back Assad, of course. Creating a no-fly zone over all of Syria will obviously draw the United States further into the conflict; David French at National Review suggests a partition of the country may be the only workable solution, with the United States providing ground support to the Kurds particularly.
All of this should disconcert those on the left who believe that President Trump is in the pocket of the Russians. President Obama’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was far more servile in Syria than Trump’s has been.