Monday, November 14, 2016

With sixty-five days remaining before President Elect Donald Trump takes office, one of the more pressing foreign policy concerns, even from his mouth involves ISIS and Syria.  In particular given the international disquiet and precarious uncertainty member states of the European Union have displayed before and after his election.

Prior to the U.S. completion of the primary election, the EU and Obama administration were not completely inagreement on how to address Syria or ISIS.  On the one hand the Obama Administration only claim of success was the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons capability, which was achieved mainly because of the influence of Russia.  However, outside of this, the Obama administration has been unable to contain the Syrian crisis and has resulted in a mass exodus of refugees into surrounding nation and Europe.

Consequently the EU is just as confused as the present administration and is all over the place with respect to any consistent policy options pertaining to Syria as one would expect with 28 different member states. Instead of embracing Putin, the EU adopted the position of President Obama from 2011 and the leaders of some of the nations, including Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany repeated verbatim that Assad must go.

Instead of working with Putin to attempt to destroy a common foe, the Obama administration has resulted to the childish action of name calling as opposed to formulating a geopolitical policy to address ISIS.  In one such instance, Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN accused Russia of supporting “barbarism” upon which she and representatives to the UN from the UK and France walked out right when the Syrian representative was to address the council. Even when Obama decided to work with Putin concerning a ceasefire in Aleppo, he was unable to bring fellow NATO member Turkey along, who believes that such would end in a redrawing of the battlefield of Syria in favor of Bashar Assad’s regime and the Kurd’s.

Beyond the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, the citizens of the EU are more concerned with the massive influx of immigrants and a succession of terror attacks in France, Belgium and Germany more than Assad. Trump’s approach is more in line with the citizens of the EU and US than the leadership of the US and EU independent nations.

Trump’s election will obviously take U.S. Syrian foreign policy in a direction in contrast to the EU and President Obama. His approach seems to be more political and diplomatic including working with Putin and Assad if his views on regime change are sincere. Trump has said the U.S. will close its borders to refugees from the Syrian civil war which is in diametric opposition to the stance taken by Merkel.  It is also understood from his statements made during the second presidential debate that his focus would be on defeating the Islamic State (IS) as opposed to going against Russia or Assad, or seeking regime change in Syria.

He has also openly stated he viewed Putin as a good leader and a person he could work with looking for peace and cooperation as opposed to war and animosity.  Similarly, he has offered a not too positive picture of the Saudi’s and NATO. One reason for this is that during the republican primary and general election Trump placed domestic policy as his most unyielding concern. 

Just this past week Trump indicated that he would stop supplying weapons to anti-Assad forces on the ground. This is consistent with some of his past statements in which he has been quoted as saying “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned withSyria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, isaligned with Syria... Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have noidea who these people are.” He has even warned that if the US attacks Assad, “we end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria.”

All of this is speculation with the exception of the President Elect’s words and his media described “isolationism.”  We still have to wait for him to put together his administration and name a secretary of state. What is certain is that the back and forth that pigeon-holed the Obama Administration, his Department of State, the Pentagon and CIA on ISIS and regime change in Syria are over.

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