WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10:  (L-R) White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive for a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway in the East Room of the White House January 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Before the news conference, the two leaders discussed economic security, trade, and their cooperation in the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10: (L-R) White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive for a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway in the East Room of the White House January 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Before the news conference, the two leaders discussed economic security, trade, and their cooperation in the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:37
Rex Tillerson: I'll be here for all of 2018
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a statement to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC, October 4, 2017.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied Wednesday he had considered resigning from Donald Trump's cabinet and dismissed a report that he had called the president a "moron" as "petty nonsense." "The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said, denying an NBC News report.
 / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a statement to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC, October 4, 2017. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied Wednesday he had considered resigning from Donald Trump's cabinet and dismissed a report that he had called the president a "moron" as "petty nonsense." "The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said, denying an NBC News report. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:30
Did Tillerson just take a veiled shot at Trump?
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:34
Trump fires Tillerson, hints at more changes
TILLERSON: MY HOPE YOU WILL BE GUIDED BY VALUES -
CNN
TILLERSON: MY HOPE YOU WILL BE GUIDED BY VALUES -
Now playing
01:58
Tillerson: Washington a 'mean-spirited town'
pool
Now playing
01:44
Tillerson speaks after being fired
Tillerson statement 03132018
POOL
Tillerson statement 03132018
Now playing
00:37
Tillerson calls out 'troubling' Russia actions
tillerson trump tenure orig vstan me_00000423.jpg
tillerson trump tenure orig vstan me_00000423.jpg
Now playing
01:50
Trump and Tillerson's tense relationship
CNN
Now playing
00:29
Tillerson calls resignation rumors 'laughable'
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Source: WH wanted to publicly shame Tillerson
Now playing
02:19
Tapper to Tillerson: Did you call Trump a moron?
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pauses during a briefing at the Department of State   on August 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged Tuesday that North Korea has shown a "level of restraint" in not conducting nuclear or missile tests since new UN sanctions were imposed. And he expressed the hope that it was a sign of Pyongyang's readiness to enter peace and disarmament talks with Washington "sometime in the near future."
 / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pauses during a briefing at the Department of State on August 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged Tuesday that North Korea has shown a "level of restraint" in not conducting nuclear or missile tests since new UN sanctions were imposed. And he expressed the hope that it was a sign of Pyongyang's readiness to enter peace and disarmament talks with Washington "sometime in the near future." / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:25
Tillerson under fire for turmoil at State Dept.
Now playing
01:30
Corker: Tillerson not getting support he needs
Now playing
00:20
Trump: Total confidence in Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson
CNN
Rex Tillerson
Now playing
02:18
Rex Tillerson addresses rumors on quitting
rex tillerson non answers origwx bw_00000000.jpg
rex tillerson non answers origwx bw_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:18
Rex Tillerson perfects the non-answer
(CNN) —  

It was as unanticipated as it was detailed. On Wednesday in Stanford, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spelled out, in rare and lengthy granular form, exactly what America’s endgame in Syria looks like.

Over six years into a war that – after outside powers ensured the near defeat of ISIS, and of the Syrian rebellion itself – is slowly and bloodily coming to an end, the Trump administration is finding itself doing precisely what its predecessor resisted, and settling in for the longer term.

Tillerson was very specific about what needs to happen for the US to stop “remaining engaged” in Syria – a set of conditions which, if shared as an opinion by the White House and Pentagon, potentially amount to a long presence indeed.

Firstly, he said ISIS and al Qaeda must “suffer an enduring defeat.” ISIS are massively diminished, but questions remain about where possibly hundreds of stragglers may be – including the foreign fighters and leaders who fled the final stand in Raqqa. Some are trying to get to Turkey, others are mingled with refugees in the desert. They’ll be hard to track and likely will return as a ragtag insurgency.

The addition of al Qaeda to this mix raises a point many Western officials have kept out of sight as the ISIS war wound up: there are hundreds of foreign al Qaeda members in northwest Syria’s Idlib area. They are currently facing a regime onslaught, but they have no love for the West. Ensuring their “enduring defeat” is a long-term project that hasn’t really gotten underway yet.

Tillerson’s second condition is that the “underlying conflict between the Syrian people and the Assad regime is resolved through a UN-led political process prescribed in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and a stable, unified, independent Syria, under post-Assad leadership, is functioning as a state.”

That’s a lot. It does appear to stick to the Obama administration’s demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leave – yet it also adds in UNSC resolution 2254, passed in late 2015, which called for elections by the middle of last year. In short, this point possibly ties the US to being in Syria until Assad is gone.

Iranian influence

Thirdly, according to Tillerson, Iranian influence in Syria must be “diminished”. This is no easy task. Iran is a key backer of the Assad regime, and its militias assisted in much of the fighting. The Iranians have deep roots in Lebanon, via the Shia militant group Hezbollah, and they are equally well-served by allied militias in neighboring Iraq.

A US military presence in northern Syria can monitor or maybe get in the way of Iran’s influence there, particularly on the long route towards Lebanon and its neighbor Israel, but it can’t stop it outright.

Tillerson’s fourth desired outcome is for conditions on the ground to improve to the point where “refugees and IDPs can begin to safely and voluntarily return to Syria.”

Currently the regime advances around rebel-held Idlib are creating a displacement crisis, rather than reversing it. But if Turkey has its way and offers enough assistance, parts of the north can be made habitable enough for the millions of Syrians in southern Turkey to contemplate going home.

Fifth, and finally, Tillerson added that Syria must be “free of weapons of mass destruction.” This harks back to the use of Sarin gas in 2013, of which Damascus was accused, which led to Russia persuading the Assad regime to let in inspectors to remove their chemical weapons program.

’Stabilization’

One Western official CNN spoke to just after that process was announced as complete said he thought about 99% of the weapons had been collected, and that there was just an issue over the items used in the 2013 Sarin attack itself. If the regime had handed those over, the official said, it would have been an implicit admission of guilt in the original attack.

Tillerson’s final point was almost added as a kicker, just in case the previous four could be magically resolved overnight.

He was clear that the many “stabilization” operations underway with American assistance – mine-clearing, local governance – did not amount to “nation building”. But he added that a total US military withdrawal “would restore Assad and continue his brutal treatment against his own people”, and also create potential “ungoverned spaces” in which ISIS might flourish again, citing the 2011 departure of US forces in Iraq that gave ISIS room to grow there.

Read: Syrian army vows to eject US troops

It is an extraordinarily detailed, point by point approach from the Trump administration that inserts US forces into a geopolitical minefield they once sought to avoid – and one that they arguably now risk worsening if they suddenly pull out overnight.

And while this wish list is so extensive it may never be fully satisfied, it will perhaps reassure America’s allies concerned that four years of Trump would mean four years of US isolationism and withdrawal.