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The decision of the Trump administration to end its support for armed, anti-Assad Syrian rebels again raises questions of what the United States considers a desirable and attainable end-state for Syria and how it plans to achieve it. These questions were avoided by an Obama administration that treated Syria's humanitarian and security catastrophes as a public information campaign to be managed so that it could get and keep a nuclear deal with Bashar Assad's best friend: Iran. In terms of substance, Russia's cold contempt for the Obama administration in Syria (and beyond) was converted to attentiveness and perhaps even respect by president Trump's rapid and forceful reaction to an Assad regime chemical attack and by kinetic American responses to Iranian and regime threats to anti-Daesh (ISIS) "partner forces" in eastern Syria.Notwithstanding these advantages, however, the Trump administration was indeed bequeathed policy poison in the case of Syria. In the western part of the country the Obama administration was inert for years in the face of mass civilian homicide by the Assad regime (with Russian and Iranian assistance), despite the protests of senior American officials and contrary to administration rhetoric rich with outrage and condemnation. The Syria of 2017 resembles not at all the Syria of 2011, even if the same family purports to rule.
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