Trump’s Syria plan: ‘safe zones’ or kill zones?

President Trump said Jan. 25 that he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for those displaced by violence, and a leaked draft of his impending executive order apparently directs the State Department and Pentagon to present a plan to him within 90 days. But this was presented in explicitly xenophobic terms—not humanitarian. In making the announcement, he dissed Europe’s leaders for taking in Syrian refugees. Trump said that Germany and other European countries made a “tremendous mistake by allowing these millions of people… I don’t want that to happen here.” (LAT, Reuters)

The move may signal an abrupt end to the Trump-Putin honeymoon. Moscow’s statement in response to Trump’ve announcement was cautionary in tone. Said Kremlin representative Dmitry Peskov: “Our American partners did not consult with us. It’s a sovereign decision… It is important that this [plan] does not exacerbate the situation with refugees, but probably all the consequences ought to be weighed up.” (RFE/RL)

Syrian rebel leaders expressed an optimism tempered by all too appropriate skepticism. “We’ve seen no result on the ground from [US] statements that were made six years ago. So therefore we await action before anything else,” said Fares al-Bayoush, a rebel commander in northwestern Syria.

There was no immediate reaction from the Bashar Assad regime, which has pledged to reconquer all of Syria. (ARA News)

Meanwhile, despite the supposed “ceasefire,” pro-regime forces continue to shell the rebel-held Wadi Barada, a strategic valley outside Damascus that supplies water to the Syrian capital. The defenders of Wadi Barada are mostly Free Syrian Army factions, ostensibly covered by the ceasefire, including al-Sham Liberation Army, Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham. The rationale is presumably the presence in the valley of some fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (ex-Nusra Front), not covered by the ceasefire. (Al Jazeera, Enab Baladi)

We expect deafening silence from those who insisted Trump was the less dangerous candidate because Hillary Clinton would impose “safe zones” in Syria and start “World War 3.” Now this honor may fall to “less dangerous” (sic!) Trump.

But the likely alternative is also utterly sinister: that Putin will join Trump in the “safe zone” proposal, and turn them into areas where hapless Syrians can flee—and be controlled—as the US, Russia and the Assad regime alike bomb the hell out of the rest of the country. More like open-air concentration camps. The failure of Bashar Assad to yet protest the proposal may be telling. It should be recalled now that Srebrenica was a “safe zone” in Bosnia…