Trump, Putin And The Syrian Quagmire

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have a number of similarities. Both are bullies. Both feel a need to demonstrate their virility. Both fancy themselves as very crafty deal makers.

There are also some differences. Putin has been successful in one of the most difficult and backstabbing political environments in the world for several decades. Trump is just  getting his feet wet in the political arena. My money is on Putin letting Trump maneuver him into just the spot that Putin wants to be.

Which is out of Syria.

What does Russia really want out of its activity in Syria?

  1. Pressure on Islamic militants which are also threatening the Russia internally
  2. Access to a naval port on the Mediterranean (Tartus) an air base (Latakia)
  3. Syrian stability – meaning Turkey, the Kurds, Iran, Israel, Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia do not expand their influence into Syria in response to a power vacuum which could have a domino effect of destabilizing the status quo in the Middle East which Russia has learned to live with.

The US shares the first and third goals, and could probably live with some form of the second, especially since it is nothing new. Russia has had access to the Tartus naval base since 1971.

If Russia could withdraw from Syria and achieve its goals it would. The primary reason for supporting Assad is that without him, goals 2 and 3 are in jeopardy.  But if Trump were to agree to some continued access to the naval and air bases, and they could agree on a political structure that included non-Assad Baathists and the non-Islamic opposition, why not jettison Assad?

Meanwhile, on the way to this deal both sides get some positives. Trump gets to demonstrate his virility by bombing Syria and standing up to Putin. But this also helps Putin, because one of Trump’s feet (the left one) is now a bit stuck in Syria which should bring him to the table faster.

At the end of the day, neither side really wants a long term engagement in Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East. Look for them both to get out as soon as they can cut a deal.

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