It’s possible that Trump’s promise to exit Syria is just bluster for the crowd. This was not a policy speech. It was a rally that focused mainly on building the border wall and immigration. Yet it’s also possible Trump is finally taking control of the government, and we should expect policy to reflect his rhetoric in a way it has not up to now.
There are good strategic reasons to stop Assad from taking back the territory in Syria he has lost. It would deprive his patron, Iran, from a land bridge to the Mediterranean Sea. But the best reason to stop Assad is humanitarian. This butcher has killed enough. He should pay, if only to stop him from killing more and as a message to the other butchers watching.
This is where the conventional wisdom on Bolton and Trump’s ‘war mongers’ collapses. The incoming national security adviser is no neoconservative. He does not believe in nation-building or using the U.S. military for humanitarian reasons. He is a cold-eyed realist who opposed President Bill Clinton’s belated intervention in the Balkans. In his 2005 confirmation hearing to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton said he didn’t know if it would have been feasible for America to try to prevent the Rwandan genocide in 1994.