Top 5 Big Foreign Conflicts Donald Trump Will Inherit (And What He Might Do About Them)
When Donald Trump becomes president in January he will inherit challenges beyond America’s borders.
Trump ran a campaign opposing the internationalism promoted by predecessors from both parties, and now he must decide how to deal with the realities of foreign policy and national security.
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. is engaged militarily in various arenas throughout the world.
These include major, well-known campaigns in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State, the terrorist group also known as ISIS, and also ongoing smaller counterterrorism missions across the globe.
“When I think about these conflicts, two things leap to mind,” said Robert Ford, who was the U.S. ambassador to Syria under Obama for four years, and now is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.
“In all of them, it is the case where the U.S. is trying to contain and reduce Islamic extremists,” Ford told The Daily Signal in an interview. “The second thing is, they are also failed states. So the dilemma for the new administration is while they don’t want to get too involved in these conflicts, preferring to do quick military action and get out, they will find the underlying political problems are enduring and sustainable victory is hard to achieve.”
Trump will also have to decide how to address Europe’s only active war, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and he will be tasked with overseeing the U.S.’ continued role in Afghanistan’s 15-year war.
Below, The Daily Signal lists the top foreign conflicts facing Trump, describing the U.S.’ current policies and how Trump could keep—or change—course.
1. ISIS in Iraq and Syria
What’s Happening Now:
In response to rapid territorial gains made by the Islamic State during the first half of 2014, the U.S. and allied countries began a military campaign against the terrorist group, relying primarily on airstrikes and support of local ground forces.
As of Nov. 2, the U.S. coalition has conducted nearly 16,000 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, the countries where ISIS maintains its largest presence.
The Defense Department reports that as of Aug. 31, the total cost of operations related to defeating ISIS is $9.3 billion and the average daily cost is $12.3 million.
Trump inherits the military campaign against ISIS during a crucial phase, as the U.S. undertakes missions to take back key territory controlled by the militants.
In late September, Obama sent 600 troops to Iraq to assist local forces in an ongoing battle to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. The U.S. now has about 5,000 American troops in Iraq, seven years after the Obama administration withdrew all U.S. forces from the country.
The new troops in Iraq, the administration said, are tasked with providing logistics assistance and intelligence to Iraqi security forces—duties that are consistent with Obama’s insistence that the U.S. has not committed American combat troops to fight ISIS.
In Syria, the Obama administration is supporting 30,000 Syrian-Kurdish and Syrian-Arab fighters, who announced last weekend they were launching a campaign to liberate the ISIS capital in Raqqa. There are roughly 300 U.S. special operations forces on the ground in the country.
The moves to take back ISIS’ remaining strongholds showcase the extent to which Obama has prioritized the counterterrorism mission in Syria over efforts to help resolve the country’s civil war, which has resulted in as many as a half a million deaths.
On Monday, in a press conference, Obama acknowledged his Syria policy “has not worked.”
What Trump Could Do:
Trump, like Obama, has emphasized he wants to focus on defeating ISIS over contributing to a political solution in Syria that would pressure President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
“I’m not saying Assad is a good man, ‘cause he’s not,” he told The New York Times in an interview in March, “but our far greater problem is not Assad, it’s ISIS.
Last week, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he would likely abandon the Obama administration effort to support “moderate” opposition groups in Syria who are focused on ousting Assad, saying, “we have no idea who these people are.”
A decision to focus on strictly ISIS means Trump could choose to collaborate with Russia, a possibility the president-elect has hinted at pursuing.
The House took a different approach this week, passing a bill to sanction anyone who supports the Syrian government, a category that includes Russia and Iran.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting the Assad regime militarily, and the U.S. has accused the country of targeting not only ISIS, but American-backed opposition groups that oppose the Syrian regime.
“Working closely with Russia would discredit the U.S. in the eyes of most Syrians and Sunni Arabs,” said Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert at The Heritage Foundation. “Moreover, it is hard to see any benefit of working with Russia as Moscow has poor intelligence on ISIS, less effective air power for attacking ISIS, and undoubtedly would continue to attack non-ISIS rebels while claiming to be fighting terrorism.”