Syria’s Fair-weather Friends

What Happened to the Opposition's Backers?

A Syrian opposition fighter in Aleppo, August 2012. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

On October 26, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Geneva that “the United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for [President] Bashar Assad in the government.” He added, “The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, and the only issue is how that should be brought about.” 

Tillerson’s statement seemed confusing—was Washington toughening its stance on Syria? It was particularly odd coming from someone whose boss, U.S. President Donald Trump, has referred to Syria as “quicksand” from which the United States should steer clear.

What made the statement odder still is that Assad is in no hurry to leave, and Washington knows it. His opponents are in disarray. Over the past year, his forces have retaken insurgent strongholds in Aleppo and eastern Syria. All remaining credible efforts to topple him are dominated by jihadists, who cannot hope

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