by Ghassan Kadi
Barely two months into his office, Trump is still facing a very hostile environment around him both domestically and internationally. Many of his domestic election promises have been kept to the pleasure of some and dismay of others, but on the international front, his emerging policies are, for better and for worse, still developing.
Some pundits believe that it is only a matter of time before Trump turns against Russia even more vehemently than his predecessor. Some even argue that he already did. The truth is that his stand towards Russia is giving confusing messages; but is it really?
Trump thus far remains adamant about working with Russia, and with Syria for that matter, against ISIS. So what has changed?
In the lead-up to his presidential election win and all the Democratic Party accusations regarding different types of association with Russia, even some pro-Russia analysts believed their enemies’ lies and thought that once elected, Trump was going to walk away from the Levant and give it to Russia on a silver platter. Well, this did not happen, and it wasn’t meant to happen.
This is not to mean that Trump is not quitting before a fight either. Thus far, all indications are that he is not looking for a fight; instead, he is looking for leverage.
The leverage he is seeking is more than a simple face-saver. He wants America to weigh in as far as the final talks regarding the end of hostilities in Syria is concerned.
Only a few days ago, I heard on the grapevine that a deal has been struck between America and Russia, one that is based on a trade-off; ISIS for Iran. It didn’t make much sense then, and it still doesn’t, because it is clear now that this deal has not yet been struck; it has only been touted.
Without paying too much attention to the sequence of events, Trump made very early hostile and unprovoked remarks towards Iran. That was his way of showing his Israeli and Saudi allies that he shares the same anti-Iranian passion they have. That was also his way of telling Putin what the new administration redlines are; and Iran is certainly high on the list.
Certainly, the Saudis jumped on the opportunity and felt euphoric. After all, they feel that they had been badly let down by Obama who would not take decisive action in Syria against President Assad. The Saudis are either naïvely triumphant or simply unaware of what is around the corner for them. Trump’s anti-Iran passion is perhaps only equaled, if not surpassed, by his anti-ISIS passion, and he is not shy from saying that it was Arab/Muslim oil money that funded ISIS. Simply put, whilst many thought that the Saudis were going to be the first on Trump’s international “hit-list”, they have in reality only been renegaded to the second position; because right now, Trump can use them and he is going to get all the mileage he can before he turns against them.
The Saudis, who have never been masters of foreign diplomacy nor intelligent by any measure, are under the illusion that their relationship with the United States has been restored. Little do they realize that they are being walked on a leash and straight into the slaughter house.
This is where the race for Raqqa begins and we are yet to see where it ends.
Unlike Mosul and before that Aleppo, different powers can end up kicking ISIS out of Raqqa. This includes the Americans (aided by loyal Kurds), the Syrian Army (aided by Russia, Iran and loyal Kurds) and the Turks.
Syria’s redline is ISIS.
Russia’s and Iran’s redline is also ISIS.
Turkey’s redline are the Kurds.
The Kurds’ redline depends on which Kurdish faction
But America’s additional redline is Iran.
Turkey announced recently that operation Euphrates Shield has ended. Erdogan seems to be stepping out of Raqqa to see how the others play the game. His troops are poised to go back in, though they never really left, but he wants to distant himself from the Raqqa battle for now.
On the other hand, America is saying to Syria, Iraq and Russia; if you want ISIS out of Syria and Iraq, we will help, we will guarantee it, but you must reciprocate by keeping Iran out of Syria and Iraq.
It is on these lines that the battle for Raqqa is drawn; each side trying to score as much as possible militarily so he can have a bigger say.
The recent huffing and puffing on part of America, Israel, and even Syria herself has been along these lines. Only Russia is playing it cool, at least thus far.
No one can be sure of what is happening within the diplomacy corridors behind the scenes. America is possibly arguing that serious attempts to quell all forms of radical Islam should not keep Iran off limits. The Russians and the Syrians will find this argument difficult of defend ideologically. The Russians and the Syrians will find it even more difficult to argue against this if America presented preparedness and willingness to sacrifice Saudi Arabia in the overall deal.
America will perhaps try to push harder and present a comprehensive Middle East road map, one that includes Lebanon and makes disarming Hezbollah part-and-parcel of the overwhelming deal. There is little doubt that given the very little that Israel and the US have on the ground in the Levant at present, they will be prepared to let their loyal Kurds down, let Turkey down, let Qatar and Saudi Arabia down, fight ISIS till the end, restore full Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty, if this can guarantee for the American Israeli duo clipping the wings of Iran and removing Hezbollah from the scene. The recent statements America made about the future pf President Assad as one that needs to be decided by Syrian people is only one little aspect of the new and bigger direction America is seeking.
America and Israel will be hoping that Russia will be able to convince both of Syria and Iraq that this is a good deal and that it is a win-win situation. The Kurds as a whole will lose regardless of who wins as they always did. Turkey will be feeling left out whether such a deal comes to fruition or not. Syria will not accept being swayed into walking away from her allies. Iran will not accept to be demoted after it has scored many diplomatic and military wins. Saudi Arabia will be elated to see the prospect of Iran dragged down the gutter before it realizes that it is the second sheep in line. Hezbollah will not let down arms and sees this whole scenario a question of life or death.
It is conflicts of this magnitude that create wars, and as the race for Raqqa looms, arms will be twisted and skulls will be crushed, and in the end, it is the people, ordinary men, women and children who pay the price.