In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, President Trump said he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” as part of his effort to head off another refugee crisis.
Trump was responding to a question from interviewer David Muir about his executive order to suspend immigration from “countries that have tremendous terror,” as the President put it.
“It’s countries that people are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems. Our country has enough problems without allowing people to come in who, in many cases or in some cases, are looking to do tremendous destruction,” Trump said.
“You’re looking at people that come in, in many cases, in some cases with evil intentions. I don’t want that. They’re ISIS. They’re coming under false pretense. I don’t want that,” he added. “I’m going to be the president of a safe country. We have enough problems.”
Trump then said he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people.”
“I think that Europe has made a tremendous mistake by allowing these millions of people to go into Germany and various other countries. And all you have to do is take a look. It’s a disaster what’s happening over there,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen here.”
He later clarified that immigration from certain countries would be excluded, while “for other countries, we’re going to have extreme vetting. It’s going to be very hard to come in.”
Perhaps even more memorably than his comment on safe zones was Trump’s response when Muir asked if he was concerned his immigration restrictions would “cause more anger among Muslims.”
“Anger? There’s plenty of anger right now. How can you have more?” Trump replied.
One way there could be more anger would be if the Syrian government and its patrons in Russia reacted badly to Trump’s call for safe zones, but a follow-up report from ABC News describes Russia and Turkey as “cautious” but seemingly receptive to the idea.
Turkey, in particular, declared it has always supported the safe-zone concept, pointing to a Syrian city liberated by Turkish-backed opposition forces as a model.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia wanted to consult with the U.S. on the safe zone idea, warned it was important to “weigh all possible consequences,” and said it was “important not to exacerbate the situation with refugees.”
As for Syrian opposition forces, Reuters describes them as “cautiously optimistic” and perhaps a bit cynical about the chances of their long-desired safe zones actually materializing.
“We’ve seen no result on the ground from statements that were made six years ago. So therefore we await action before anything else,” said rebel commander Fares al-Bayoush.
Notably dubious of the safe-zone idea were the international aid agencies Reuters quoted, who said the concept rarely works out in practice.
Democrats eager to criticize Trump for an ostensibly foolish safe zone idea will have to purge their memories of Hillary Clinton calling for the same thing during the presidential campaign. Even at that, safe zones would be much easier to accomplish today — after Russia changed the balance of power and pushed the Syrian civil war into a terminal phase — than it was when Clinton suggested the idea.
Conversely, it should be noted that Trump warned Clinton’s safe-zone proposal could “lead to World War Three,” but at the time, there was a far greater chance of conflict between Russian and U.S. coalition forces over no-fly regions, and of the U.S. being drawn into conflict with either Syrian or rebel forces. On the other hand, a new concern alluded to in Reuters’s report would be Turkish forces pursuing Kurds into a U.S.-enforced safe zone.
All parties are waiting to see the details of the plan President Trump ordered the Secretary of Defense to prepare within 90 days, as laid out in a draft order quoted by CNBC.