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Opinion | It Always Comes Back to Syria


It may be difficult to remember now, but the Syrian tragedy began in 2011 with peaceful protests against an iron-fisted system that has governed Syria for decades. The conflict is now in its eighth year, and although it is nowhere near over, its outcome has been determined: The Assad regime has won. Mr. al-Assad rules a fractured nation of corpses and rubble and tired, traumatized survivors.

To be clear, the Middle East — at least most of it — is not typically pleading for more American military intervention. And ending endless wars, as Mr. Trump claims he wants, is a noble idea. But the hasty, unplanned manner of the White House’s policy has had immediate bloody consequences, not just for who controls what in Syria but also for how the world views the United States.

The Syrian opposition believed that the United States (and the West more generally) had its back, from the earliest days in 2011 when President Barack Obama said Mr. al-Assad must go, to Obama’s empty “red line” warning in 2012 against the use of chemical weapons.

Russia has conducted itself strategically in Syria. The United States? As a Syrian rebel fighter from an American-backed faction named the Hazm Movement told me in 2014, America “doesn’t even know who its friends are or what it is doing.” Russia, he said, is “more honorable and trustworthy than the United States, because at least it is really standing alongside its ally,” Mr. al-Assad. “The United States had people, it had partners in us,” he said, “but I don’t think the Americans are real allies.”

Good luck to the next American leader looking for coalition allies in a Middle East where memories are long.

Rania Abouzeid, a current Harvard Nieman fellow, is a journalist and the author of “No Turning Back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria.”

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