Syria and Iraq in the Trump world order
It's clear that President Obama had set a goal to take both Mosul and Raqqa from ISIS before leaving office, and bequeath these victories to his successor Hillary Clinton. But both of these battles hold the potential both for humanitarian disaster and a violent aftermath as Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites contend for liberated territory. Now all this will instead be bequeathed to Donald Trump—with no savvy about the region, and a blatant appetite for destruction. This dramatically escalates the potential for disaster. It is pretty clear Trump intends to divide Syria with Putin the way Hitler divided Poland with Stalin. The US will take Raqqa and the east; Russia will establish a reduced Assad state as a protectorate around Damascus and Latakia in the west. Whether the US will be able to control its sphere amid social collapse and sectarian maelstrom is another matter.
Assad is clearly heartened by Trump's victory. In an interview with NPR, his official mouthpiece Bouthaina Shaaban said that Assad is "ready" to cooperate with Trump, and that "the American people have sent a great, a very important message to the world." (New Yorker) A New York Times account from Syria states that "supporters of...Bashar al-Assad...pronounced themselves delighted with the president-elect, believing he would change course, abandon support for Mr. Assad's opponents in the Syrian civil war and embrace Damascus and its ally, Moscow."
In New York, Trump himself made clear that the current US tilt to Assad is about to become an outright embrace: "I've had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria. My attitude was you're fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria... We end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria." (NYT)
And now that the dirty work is done, the Russian government admits it maintained contact with members of Trump's "immediate entourage" during the presidential campaign. "There were contacts," deputy foreign minister Sergei A. Ryabkov told Interfax. "We continue to do this and have been doing this work during the election campaign." (NYT)
Gee, who would have imagined that? It now appears Trump had both the FBI and the KGB pulling for him. And with the addition of James Woolsey to Trump's team, we can probably also add at least elements of the CIA. (France24)
It gets worse. Kremlin advisor Sergei Glazyev just virtually admitted that the US election was carried out under threat of nuclear war: "Americans had two choices: World War Three or multilateral peace. Clinton was a symbol of war, and Trump has a chance to change this course." (The Independent)
Trump will inaugurate a new policy of friendship and collaboration with Russian President Vladimir Putin, based on accommodating Russia's interests. In the Middle East, this includes accepting Russia's role in Syria as positive and supporting Bashar al-Assad's regime as the lesser evil.
It would logically involve demanding from the United States’ traditional allies in the region that they cease supporting the Syrian armed opposition. Washington would then co-sponsor with Moscow a Syrian "coalition government" that would include conciliationist “opposition” members. This could open the way to US collaboration with the Assad regime in the name of the "war on terror."
Pursuing the policy of favouring "strong men" in power, which he shares with Putin, Trump will want to improve Washington's relations with both Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Maddeningly, the Syrian American Council, stateside voice of Free Syrian Army, issued a statement congratuling Trump on his victory—obviously trying to ingratiate the FSA with the new boss. More maddeningly, so did the public spokesman of the Syrian Kurdish rebels, with their supposed anarchist-influenced politics. Salih Maslem, co-president of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), tweeted: "We congratulate the American people on the election of their new president @realDonaldTrump. We hope for closer cooperation for a safe Syria."
Then, lest we forget, there is Aleppo. Food rations in the besieged FSA-controlled eastern part of the city are expected to completely run out next week. Amid new evidence of chlorine gas being used in the Aleppo countryside, Russia and the FSA are accusing each other. (AP) All this as a Russian war fleet armed with Cruise missiles approaches the Syrian coast, to participate in the battle for Aleppo... However, Russia may wait for the full assualt until its man is in the White House, assuring a US "green light" for destruction of the city.
We are grimly optimistic that the FSA and PYD will shortly be disabused of any illusions they may hold about Donald Trump being a friend of Syrian freedom.