Donald Trump announced that he was pulling US troops out of Syria last week. Senator Lindsey Graham, normally a Trump cheerleader, criticized the move, noting that it “put our allies . . . at risk.”
Graham might be right, but he should know better than to use that argument on Trump. The man doesn’t understand the concept of ‘allies’. He hasn’t really had any his whole life. He’s had business associates but not allies. The closest thing Trump has to an ally in business is Jared Kushner’s company, but Kushner is both family and an employee (advisor to the president), not an ally.
Trump sees the world in hierarchical terms: what matters is who is on top of who. In his view, ‘allies’ are there only to help him get what he wants. But there is no quid pro quo. When those ‘allies’ need something back, Trump feels no obligation to help out. It is all transactional to him and the deal always has to be tilted in his favor.
So while Senator Graham still expects Trump to support allies, the rest of the world has figured out that he isn’t a reliable partner. They know that when Trump talks about allies, it is really all lies.
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?
- Pressure on Islamic militants which are also threatening the Russia internally
- Access to a naval port on the Mediterranean (Tartus) an air base (Latakia)
- 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.
It seems like every Republican president over the past 40 years has instigated a significant invasive military action involving ground troops.
- Ronald Reagan invaded Granada
- George Bush Sr. invaded Iraq
- George Bush Jr. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan
Bill Clinton followed Bush Sr., and while there was military action on his watch, it did not involve ground troops, just bombing. Barak Obama committed ground troops, but this was a continuation of the wars he inherited from Bush Jr., not something he initiated on his own.
The question is whether Republican Donald Trump will follow the pattern. He did not waste much time putting the military to work in Syria, but that was an air strike, not a commitment of ground troops. Would Donald Trump really want to invade Syria?
Possibly. What if Trump and Putin both agreed to put ground troops in Syria to fight the Islamists? This would not happen before they had come to an agreement on the future of President Assad and the country itself, but stranger things have happened.