The United States no longer believes removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be a foreign policy priority, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday.

The official policy under the Obama administration calling for Assad to step down started in the earliest stages of the Syrian Civil War as it began in 2011.

“We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did,”

“Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria,” Haley said according to Reuters.

Without wanting to order direct troop involvement to oust Assad, the original Obama policy led to arming opposition rebels for years who saw little success on the battlefield. Russian military intervention, beginning in 2015 to assist Assad, essentially ended the prospects of removing Assad through surrogate forces like the ‘moderate Syrian rebels’ who were trained and armed by the U.S. government.

President Donald Trump has made clear his primary foreign policy objective is the destruction of the Islamic State, and despite his relative silence on the issue since taking office, the increase in bombings, operations, and troop levels inside Syria suggest he is working towards that end.

Some observers have noted the U.S. had effectively changed its priority on Assad long ago. Ambassador Haley’s remarks are merely a formality, as it has become clear the U.S. has shifted to focusing on the Islamic State.

The announcement saw condemnation from some U.S. lawmakers, specifically from Republicans Lindsay Graham and John McCain, long known as foreign policy hawks.

“Their suggestion that Assad can stay in power appears to be just as devoid of strategy as President Obama’s pronouncements that ‘Assad must go.’ Once again, U.S. policy in Syria is being presented piecemeal in press statements without any definition of success, let alone a realistic plan to achieve it,” McCain said in a statement. “But this overlooks the tragic reality that the Syrian people cannot decide the fate of Assad or the future of their country when they are being slaughtered by Assad’s barrel bombs, Putin’s aircraft, and Iran’s terrorist proxies.”

A Trump administration official said that the shift in policy reflects a measure of realism, and that the U.S. is acknowledging the facts on the ground, that Assad will never have the power to control the entire country, and the U.S. should instead focus on preventing the country from being a terrorist safe haven, Reuters reported.

Image courtesy of the BBC