Mr. President, do you support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power?
President Donald Trump has been very clear about his plans for ISIS. He's said repeatedly that he will "destroy" the group. But it's less clear what Trump wants to see happen in ISIS' home base: Syria.
Syria's civil war began as a revolt against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. It evolved into multifactional armed conflict involving anti-government rebels, terrorist groups like ISIS, proxy forces and foreign governments, including a US-led coalition, Russia and Iran.
At times, it seemed unlikely that Assad could remain in power. Now, after Russia's intervention in October 2015 in support of the Syrian government, it's much harder to imagine Assad stepping down. But it's also hard to imagine how Assad will govern the nation, if and when the conflict ends, after waging a long and brutal campaign that's so devastated the Syrian people.
Assad's human rights abuses and war crimes have been well documented. His forces have targeted hospitals, killed civilians with indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starved civilians by putting their cities and towns under siege, and engaged in torture.
New allegations against Assad continue to surface. This week Amnesty International reported that the Syrian government systematically executed between 5,500 and 13,500 people, most of them civilians detained for opposing the regime, at Saydnaya jail between 2011 and 2015.
The Obama administration walked a careful line in Syria after famously failing to hold Assad accountable for crossing the "red line" of using chemical weapons. Obama continued to insist that Assad needed to go. He trained and later armed some Syrian opposition fighters. At the same time, he helped protect the regime by focusing US military interventions on ISIS, and critics say he stood aside as Iran and Russia came to Assad's aid and shaped the conflict.
It seems like the new US president will apply even less pressure to Assad than Obama did. He speaks often about ISIS, but little about Assad and the future of Syria. Trump has promised an end to "nation building" and says the fight against ISIS should involve closer cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an Assad ally.
“If they ever did overthrow Assad," Trump said during the presidential campaign, "you might end up with as bad as Assad is, and he’s a bad guy. But you may very well end up with worse than Assad.”
Assad, meanwhile, seems pleased with what he's heard from the Trump administration so far.
"What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS," Assad told reporters in Damascus on Tuesday. "So, I think this is promising. We have to wait. It's still early to expect anything practical."
So, Mr. President, will you support Assad's rule? Click here to tweet the question to the president.
Over President Donald Trump's roughly first 100 days, we'll be asking him questions that our audience wants answers to. Join the project by tweeting this question to @realDonaldTrump with the hashtag #100Days100Qs. See more of our questions at pri.org/100questions.
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