Hillary Clinton will order a “full review” of the United States’ strategy on Syria as a “first key task” of her presidency, resetting the policy to emphasise the “murderous” nature of the Assad regime, foreign policy adviser with her campaign has said.
Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, said Mrs Clinton would both escalate the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and work to get Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, “out of there”.
“A Clinton administration will not shrink from making clear to the world exactly what the Assad regime is,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph. “It is a murderous regime that violates human rights; that has violated international law; used chemical weapons against his own people; has killed hundreds of thousands of people, including tens of thousands of children.”
Mr Obama has been roundly criticised by top experts and members of his own administration for instating an approach to the Syrian war – which has seen estimates of more than 400,000 people killed – that is riven with contradictions.
The White House remains notionally committed to removing Mr Assad, whilst at the same time, working in alliance with Russia, Damascus’ top champion.
The new agreement it was setting out with Moscow earlier this month would see US forces join Russia in a bombing campaign against Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist group that includes cells who are allied with Al-Qaeda, but whose focus has been combatting the Syrian government.
As America switches its focus to destroying Isil and creating alliances with Moscow, the White House has quietly dropped its rhetoric against the Assad regime.
Critics warn that this approach will only foster anti-American sentiment among Syrians, who feel abandoned by the United States following its failure to take decisive action against Damascus.
A source with access to White House officials said the administration sees the dangers that partnering with Russia could have in terms of worsening the dynamics on the ground, but that the president is trying to cover his bases until he steps down in November.
The source said the White House feels it cannot not be seen to be doing nothing against an Al-Qaeda affiliate at a time of heightened national security in America. Were there to be an attack in the US that was claimed by Al-Qaeda the president’s legacy would be destroyed, they fear.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention, Mr Bash, who is advising the party’s presidential nominee, said a Clinton administration would seek to bring “moral clarity” to the US strategy on the Syrian crises.
“I predict that a Syria policy review will be one of the first items of business for the national security team,” he said.
Mr Bash refused to say what specific action the Clinton administration may take, saying it was not possible to plan the “granular detail” whilst still waging an election campaign.
The Clinton campaign strategy as listed on its website revives a long proposed, but never implemented, plan to create “safe zones” on the ground for civilians.
This would require a de facto no fly zone to prevent air strikes in the area. It is a strategy that has been passionately opposed by Damascus, which sees this is a safe haven for rebel opposition groups.
“This creates leverage and momentum for a diplomatic solution that removes Assad and brings Syria’s communities together to fight ISIS,” the policy on Mrs Clinton’s website reads.
Mr Bash describes a foreign policy more hawkish than that of the current administration. He said there were a “lot of clues” to how Mrs Clinton will behave as commander-in-chief from her time as secretary of state. During that time she championed the intervention in Libya and advocated the arming of Syrian rebels against the regime.
“She sees the importance of American leadership as a first principle,” he said. “Mrs Clinton believes that problems around the world can more easily be solved when America is involved and in each of those problems or crisis. We always try to work with coalitions of people and countries and leaders who are willing to tackle the problems in the same way we are.”
Jamie Rubin, the former US diplomat and close Clinton ally, separately told The Telegraph that Mrs Clinton, who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, would not feel “constrained” as many in the Obama administration have been in the wake of its disastrous legacy.