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An American flag above a building used by the Kurdish police Tal Abyad, Syria, in 2016. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFT via Getty Images

At yesterday's Oval Office press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Trump said of Syria, "We'll be coming home, but we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint."

Yet it's doubtful the U.S. could maintain a strong or lasting footprint without committing to stabilization, which would involve a larger U.S. troop presence or support for a Turkish security zone in northern Syria.

The big picture: Little has changed since the coalition airstrikes on April 13, a response to President Bashar al-Assad's latest chemical weapons attack, and the White House continues to send mixed messages about the U.S. presence in Syria.

Regional allies are unsure of U.S. commitment, leading them to make choices that at times exacerbate the conflict. Two weeks ago, for example, Israel launched an airstrike on a Syrian airbase in response to the chemical attacks, killing 14 people, 7 of whom were Iranian. And Turkey, a NATO ally, has also caused tensions to flare by acting unilaterally in northern Syria.

Meanwhile, U.S. enemies have exploited the U.S.' strategic negligence, complicating the White House's options as Iran extends its influence to the Mediterranean and Russia establishes itself as the region's powerbroker.

The bottom line: So long as the U.S. and its Western allies continue to avoid assuming a more substantial leadership role in the region, Syria will remain mired in crisis and confusion.

Adham Sahloul has been a researcher at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and an advocacy officer at the Gaziantep, Turkey, office of the Syrian American Medical Society.

Go deeper

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
7 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.

8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons