Normally, a new US president is treated benevolently by Congress, with lawmakers opening a wide leeway for initiatives coming from an administration. It’s different in the case of Donald Trump. He enjoys no honeymoon period, with all his activities obstructed in each and every way.
Under the circumstances, the president may have to shelve a joint plan to combat the Islamic State (IS) with Russia amid the scandals related to the ties of the president and administrations officials with Moscow. «I don’t know Putin, but if we can get along with Russia that’s a great thing. It’s good for Russia; it’s good for us; we go out together and knock the hell out of ISIS, because that’s a real sickness», the president told Fox News in late January.
Today, the administration says it is scaling back, at least for the time being. That’s what President Trump stated at the February 16 news conference held right after the firing of his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. «It would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal», the president said. «It would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better».
The contentious issues of alleged violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and non-compliance with the New START are also cited as the reasons to put the plan on hold. Some of the officials, who have recently joined the administration and have the president’s ear, are known as advocates of tough stance. There are influential politicians in Europe who warn President Trump on Russia.
On March 4, Dmitry Peskov, Russia’s presidential spokesman, stated that Moscow was ready to continue the fight against «Islamic state» without the help of the United States. The statement was made in the wake of Palmyra’s liberation from the IS.
Opposed by Democrats and the Republican orthodoxy, Trump has to backtrack, losing initiative. The fight is not over. The president speaks directly to those who support him. A wave of pro-Trump rallies hit America. Rallies are scheduled in some 50 cities.
The president’s first «big» speech in Congress greatly strengthened his position to increase the number of his supporters and sympathizers. It really gave him a bump. The plans to increase military expenditure also contribute into strengthening his support base among the military brass and the circles close to the US defense industry.
The success of the ongoing fight against the IS and subsequent contribution into peaceful settlement of the Syria’s crisis, is extremely important for US international standing. Russia has greatly increased its clout in the Middle East and plays a key role in the struggle against terror. It is the only actor who can effectively mediate between the parties pursuing different aims in Syria. It has just prevented a clash between Turkey and Syria in Manbij.
The problem of IS is not limited to Iraq and Syria only. There is a great probability Russia and the US will have to cooperate in Libya and Afghanistan.
It should be noted that the fight against terror groups in the region has nothing to do with the internal scandals hitting the US. The contacts, imaginary or real, of US officials with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak have no whatsoever relation to the fight against the IS and other terror groups threatening the United States and Russia.
In the worst times of the Cold War, the two nations found ways to set aside differences and join together to address the issues of mutual interest. Despite the deterioration of bilateral relations, they fruitfully cooperated in 2013 to do away with Syria’s arsenal chemical weapons.
Russia has more leverage that the US with key actors involved in the conflict, including Turkey, a NATO member, the Syria’s government and Iran – the country that cannot be ignored. Russia is on speaking terms with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Kurds. It has a leading role in the Astana process. Its Air Space Forces and experts greatly influence the situation creep.
Moscow plays the role of mediator to prevent clashes between Syria’s and US forces on the ground. The refusal to coordinate efforts with Russia will reduce the US influence on the events in Syria and, thus, diminish its clout in the Middle East.
Acting on its own, the US will willy-nilly have to significantly increase its forces in Syria and the region in general. There are signs the process has already started. It has been reported recently that the Pentagon’s plans envisage major US army deployment in Syria before an assault on Islamic State capital Raqqa. Even so, it has no resources to go it alone. A major military operation in Syria is doomed to be unpopular in the US after bitter experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It means America needs allies, partners and comrades in arms. 'We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet,' President Trump told Congress on February 28. A success will enormously boost his position and weaken the position of the critics. He definitely needs Russia to achieve this success.
The two nations will benefit if they use the experience of the past (the Helsinki Act) and divide the pertinent issues into «baskets». One basket should include the controversial matters to be addressed at the round table. The issues that unite the two nations should be put into another basket. The fight against terror is the one.
If success is achieved on this issue, the process will encompass other areas of relationship. Refusing to coordinate activities with Russia on Syria is equal to shooting oneself to the foot. No one wins, everyone loses. Donald Trump will lose more than anyone else at the time he badly needs breakthroughs and achievements.