Is a Major Reset With Russia in the Cards?
If all of the recent news is to be believed, it is looking more and more likely that, with President Donald Trump in the White House effective Jan. 20, 2017, the United States and Russian President Vladimir Putin could begin working together very soon on a global scale to fight terrorism, end the bloodshed in the Middle East, and reduce the threat of war.
By Richard Walker
President Barack Obama’s failed promise to reset relations with Russia has presented his successor, President-elect Donald Trump, with a unique opportunity to build new relations between Washington, D.C. and Moscow.
Given everything Trump has said during his electioneering, it appears it is in the cards that he will draw Washington closer to Moscow and in so doing form an alliance that could see several major developments that would make the world a safer place.
Trump told The New York Times in his latest meeting with its editors that it was in the mutual interests of the U.S. and Russia to get on well, and it was time to end the “craziness” in Syria.
If the recent appearance of one of his sons, Donald Trump Jr., at a Paris meeting of pro-Russia and Syrian-government figures is any indication of his priorities, it would appear an end to the war in Syria is certainly at the top of his agenda.
It could not have escaped his notice that his predecessor, Obama, not only complicated America’s role in tackling ISIS, but also rejected overtures from Russian leader Vladimir Putin to have a united front in defeating ISIS across the Middle East.
Instead, Obama listened to neocon voices on Capitol Hill urging support for a campaign to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad even when that meant arming and training the very extreme Islamic elements such as ISIS, al Qaeda, and the al-Nusra front that were causing the mayhem and posing a threat to the West.
The Paris meeting centered on talks with the “Patriotic Opposition,” a group with ties to Assad and senior foreign policy figures in Moscow. One of its leaders, Randa Kassis, who is married to a French businessman, later said she was optimistic for an end to the Syrian conflict after meeting Trump Jr. and hearing what he had to say.
She would have known in advance of the Paris get-together that the U.S. president-elect was one of the very few political figures in the U.S. to have taken a strong stand against Obama’s Syria policy and to have praised Russia’s military campaign against ISIS.
But, no matter how committed Trump may be to resetting relations with Moscow and ending U.S. military backing for extreme Islamic elements opposed to the Assad government, he will no doubt face opposition from those on the Hill that called for the overthrow of Assad, namely Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
One of the first moves a President Trump could make in January would be to unravel Obama’s regime-change strategy in Syria, thereby freeing up Moscow to take on ISIS without any hindrance.
He could even order closer military cooperation with Russia, making it possible to coordinate air strikes against radical Islamic targets.
The defeat of those groups would pave the way for more meaningful peace talks to end the conflict.
In a sign that the election of Trump is helping shift alliances toward the reset he has in mind with Moscow, Egypt recently declared its support for Assad and plans to send troops to help him defeat ISIS, a move that would have been unthinkable before the U.S. presidential election.
The decision by Egypt’s leader, Gen. Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, to back Assad militarily can be explained by his growing closeness to Russia and Turkey, two countries that have been reconnecting in recent months, though Turkey is pro-ISIS.
What is most surprising about the Egyptian development, coming as it has done with the election of Trump, is that the Saudi-led Arab coalition that has financed ISIS and al-Nusra will now be squeezed as Trump edges closer to Moscow. As a consequence, Washington will find itself in a new alliance with Turkey and Egypt. They will cooperate with the U.S. and Russia to eliminate ISIS and will support the continuation of the Assad regime. That will signal a total reversal of U.S. policy in the region.
All of this, of course, points to a shifting pattern of alliances that may also pose significant problems for the incoming Trump administration if, as appears likely, the Israelis disapprove. There are other issues that may not appear critical at this point but could flare up. One is how Washington will treat an anti-Iranian regime group, MeK, also known as Mujahideen e-Khalq.
The MeK has been used in the past by Israel and the CIA to undertake covert assassinations and bombings in Iran. Members of the group have also killed Americans and were once allegedly in the pay of Saddam Hussein.
Even though MeK is on a State Department list of terrorist organizations, it has many backers on Capitol Hill, among them people within Trump’s inner circle like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and Newt Gingrich.
MeK has paid Giuliani and others to lobby for it to be removed from the terror watch list. This is an example of the duplicity and the confusing positions the Trump presidency will face given the machinations of elites in Washington.
Richard Walker is a longtime newsman, who now lives on the West Coast.