ISIS was forced out of all its occupied territory in Syria and Iraq, though thousands of ISIS fighters are still present in both countries. Last April, Assad again used sarin gas, this time in Idlib Province, and Russia again used its veto to protect its client from condemnation and sanction by the U.N. Security Council. President Trump ordered cruise missile strikes on the Syrian airfield where the planes that delivered the sarin were based. It was a minimal attack, but better than nothing. A week before, I had condemned statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who had explicitly declined to maintain what had been the official U.S. position that a settlement of the Syrian civil war had to include Assad’s removal from power. “Once again, U.S. policy in Syria is being presented piecemeal in press statements,” I complained, “without any definition of success, let alone a realistic plan to achieve it.” As this book goes to the publisher, there are reports of a clash between U.S. forces in eastern Syria and Russian “volunteers,” in which hundreds of Russians were said to have been killed. If true, it’s a dangerous turn of events, but one caused entirely by Putin’s reckless conduct in the world, allowed if not encouraged by the repeated failures of the U.S. and the West to act with resolve to prevent his assaults against our interests and values. In President Obama’s last year in office, at his invitation, he and I spent a half hour or so alone, discussing very frankly what I considered his policy failures, and he believed had been sound and necessary decisions. Much of that conversation concerned Syria. No minds were changed in the encounter, but I appreciated his candor as I hoped he appreciated mine, and I respected the sincerity of his convictions. Yet I still believe his approach to world leadership, however thoughtful and well intentioned, was negligent, and encouraged our allies to find ways to live without us, and our adversaries to try to fill the vacuums our negligence created. And those trends continue in reaction to the thoughtless America First ideology of his successor. There are senior officials in government who are trying to mitigate those effects. But I worry that we are at a turning point, a hinge of history, and the decisions made in the last ten years and the decisions made tomorrow might be closing the door on the era of the American-led world order. I hope not, and it certainly isn’t too late to reverse that direction. But my time in that fight has concluded. I have nothing but hope left to invest in the work of others to make the future better than the past. As of today, as the Syrian war continues, more than 400,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians. More than five million have fled the country and more than six million have been displaced internally. A hundred years from now, Syria will likely be remembered as one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the twenty-first century, and an example of human savagery at its most extreme. But it will be remembered, too, for the invincibility of human decency and the longing for freedom and justice evident in the courage and selflessness of the White Helmets and the soldiers fighting for their country’s freedom from tyranny and terrorists. In that noblest of human conditions is the eternal promise of the Arab Spring, which was engulfed in flames and drowned in blood, but will, like all springs, come again.
John McCain (The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations)