Last Friday, I spoke with former National Security Council official Samantha Vinograd about President Trump’s reluctance to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the implications this has for the tens of thousands of people suffering from the nearly seven-year-old war in Syria. Russia’s military support for Syrian government forces has proven a vital lifeline for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is accused of killing tens of thousands of Syrian civilians throughout the course of the conflict. On Thursday of last week, after the Assad regime began intense attacks on the Syrian city of Ghouta causing horrific civilian casualties, Vinograd wrote an article for Just Security focusing on the consequences of the Trump administration’s failure to press the Kremlin to do more to curb civilian casualties in Syria.
International observers have voiced grave concern about the humanitarian crisis in Ghouta, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying, “Eastern Ghouta cannot wait, it is high time to stop this hell on earth.” Though the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced today that he would instead order only a five-hour “daily pause” on the hostilities against Eastern Ghouta.
In Vinograd’s view, though some of President Trump’s actions on Syria have been laudable, such as bombing a Syrian airfield in response to attacks on civilians, his policies since then have been ineffective at stopping Assad’s violence against civilians. And Trump’s unwillingness to confront Russia on other issues — such as interference in the 2016 election — suggests that the U.S. will not stand up to Putin on Syria.
Even if you think it’s too late, or impossible, to make the Russian government to rethink its support for Bashar al-Assad, this is a matter worth paying attention to, and learning from. It is almost too easy to become absorbed in the domestic angles of the Trump-Russia saga. But as Vinograd reminds us, Trump’s apparent unwillingness to confront Moscow has deadly consequences.