President-elect Donald Trump has promised to drastically change the US foreign policy, including regional conflicts. In his interview with The Wall Street Journal he said that his administration’s top priority in Syria would be to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group, rather than ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to him, «My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS (IS), and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are». The statement indicates a complete reversal of the previous policy. If the US attacks Mr. Assad, the president-elect said, «We end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria».
With all the Russia’s attempts to coordinate the efforts spurned, the policy of Obama’s administration aimed at regime change in Syria has pushed the US to the brink of confrontation with Russia. Obviously, Donald Trump has understanding of the folly of this policy.
During the election campaign, Mr. Trump stated that regime change in Syria would only cause more instability in the region and shoring up the Assad’s government is the most efficient way to stem the spread of terrorism and extremism. Summing up the president-elect’s statements, it all boils down to the US getting out of the war in Syria, stop destabilizing more Middle Eastern countries, and working together with Moscow to defeat terrorist groups such as IS.
Last summer he said, «Wouldn't it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIL (IS)?» It particular, he has suggested putting an end to the support for Syrian rebels.
Donald Trump also expressed a desire to hold a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin soon. According to him, he had received an «excellent» letter» (meaning a congratulatory telegram) from the Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressing a desire to work «to return Russian-American relations to a stable path of development».
It is normal that during presidential races candidates say a lot of things to make them forgotten, swept under the rug or reversed afterwards. It is a matter of prime importance that Mr. Trump confirmed his position on Syria right after the election victory. In a new turn of events the Syria’s government led by President Bashar Assad said it was ready to cooperate with the US president-elect. This is a development that can lead to drastic changes.
The battles raging in Mosul, Raqqa and Aleppo are putting the issue to the fore. It’s not about «de-confliction», but rather crisis management efforts after IS is defeated and eastern Aleppo moves under the control of Russia-supported government forces. There is not much time left till the pertinent actors have to do so something to address the situation and make decisions that may lead to either confrontation, or cooperation.
Now when President Trump is in office, the parties could make first steps by sealing a deal on coordinating efforts. Joint air strikes against Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and IS would be a good start.
With IS pushed out of Aleppo and Raqqa, the parties could make arrangements to define the zones of influence and mutual obligations till UN-brokered international negotiations produce results. Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have influence among the groups, which have armed formations operating in the country. Russia has good working relations with these countries as well as Syria’s government. The US also has influence with some groups, especially the Syrian Kurds. Joining together, the parties could gradually move forward within the framework of International Syria Support Group.
Russia and the US should cooperate on Syria and gain experience of working together in the Middle East and North Africa because the there is a big chance they will soon need such an experience while tackling the problems of Libya, Afghanistan and, may be, Iraq and Yemen within the framework of international effort.
The president-elect’s stance on this issue is sound and sensible. After all, unlike IS, Syria President Assad poses no danger to the US. The extremists threaten Russia and America and they make no distinction. It would be a folly to confront each other in Syria instead of joining together against the common enemy. With the enormous combined power of the two countries, they are bound to prevail soon with tangible results for the whole world to see.
The president-elect’s stance on the Middle East and Syria, in particular, opens new opportunities for fruitful cooperation with Russia. The Syria war cannot last forever and Russia-US cooperation is key to achieving progress on peaceful settlement.
This cooperation could spread to other areas as part of broader process. The interview of Mr. Trump and the planned phone conversation between the two leaders could be harbingers of positive changes. President Trump will have got his presidency off to a strong start. It is up to him not to miss the opportunity.