But the goals in Syria are so sweeping they may be unattainable, thus leaving American troops there in perpetuity. As outlined by Mr. Tillerson, the administration intends that ISIS and Al Qaeda “suffer an enduring defeat” and that Syria “never again” be a terrorist haven. It also wants the Syrian civil war resolved through a political process that produces a stable Syria with President Bashar al-Assad gone.
A comprehensive political agreement ending the conflict between Mr. Assad and Syrian rebels is crucial. It’s also what Mr. Obama tried and failed to achieve, largely because of resistance from Mr. Assad and his Russian and Iranian enablers. It’s hard to see what will be different now.
Mr. Tillerson called for more diplomacy, but he wants the United Nations, not the United States, to lead. He hopes to prevent Iran, whose forces helped save Mr. Assad’s embattled regime, from strengthening its foothold in Syria and threatening Israel and other countries. Defeating ISIS used to be the priority. Now Washington also aims to ensure that Iranian influence on the region is diminished, he said.
There is no question that the United States should work to curb Iran’s malignant activities. But Mr. Tillerson described an agenda that suggests an alarming eagerness to confront Iran, perhaps even militarily.
The Americans are also sending mixed messages about reports that they will use their 2,000 troops to train their allies in the anti-ISIS campaign, Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, who are the majority of a 30,000-member border force that will be tasked with protecting the emerging semiautonomous Kurdish enclave. Turkey, which views the Kurds as an enemy, has threatened a cross-border assault. All of this raises the grim possibility that American troops will clash with Turkey, a NATO ally.
“How does this not become an unending war?” Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, asked Mr. Satterfield, who replied with some political buzzwords. The American people deserve a real answer.