Saudi Arabia and UAE agree with Trump on Syrian safe zones

U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by his senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner (R), speaks by phone with the Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Huffington Post – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates voiced support for President Donald Trump’s idea to establish safe zones in Syria, which comes as no surprise given it would boost Sunni extremists who want to topple President Bashar Assad’s secular regime. The White House, for its part, wants to bottle up refugees inside Syria to prevent Muslim blockade runners from reaching U.S. shores. However, instituting safe zones would require a costly military intervention and risks empowering the very jihadist forces Trump has vowed to defeat.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabian King Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammad in separate phone calls with Trump agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen to help refugees “displaced by the ongoing conflicts,” the White House said in a press release.

The conversations come in the wake of a White House executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim countries, the original draft of which directed the Defense Department to begin devising blueprints for Syrian safe zones. Last week, Trump told ABC News that he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria,” echoing sentiments he expressed on the campaign trail.

Yet the final version of said executive order excluded the safe zone provision, probably to the chagrin of Al Qaeda in Syria and like-minded militants. But now it appears Trump only suspended the decision, perhaps calculating that he better get buy-in from stakeholders in the region before embarking on the initiative.

Consequences not too difficult to foresee inimical to U.S. national security interests far outweigh any conceivable benefits of instituting in Syria a single so-called safe zone, a euphemism for a no-fly zone – itself a de facto declaration of war. The Pentagon estimates it would require 30,000 boots on the ground and cost $1 billion per month to implement. Moreover, a no-fly zone, which entails establishing air supremacy over the safe areas, risks sparking a direct confrontation with Syrian and Russian forces operating in the region.

The answer to addressing the root cause of the refugee crisis requires a radical departure from Washington orthodoxy, a paradigm shift many hoped Trump would embrace along with his pragmatic-minded Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who perhaps still has time to influence White House strategy. Tillerson might be able to rein in Trump, who seems obsessed with setting a record for fulfilling campaign promises within his first couple weeks in office.

The answer lies, not in safe zones, but in abandoning support for the not-so-moderate opposition and working with the Russian and Syrian governments to defeat terrorists – it’s really that simple. Despite the virtue of being deeply-rooted in logic, however, because it so affronts the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s ideological sensibilities, less a dramatic sea change in outlook or course correction by Trump, such a policy might be practically unthinkable – at least within Washington’s corridors of power.

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