Middle East Stability Still Faraway

January 18, 2019

It has been a month since President Trump declared victory against ISIS in Syria and said US troops were returning home. It was only to be expected that the decision would lead to questions. Because, this was an abrupt announcement made on Twitter apparently without adequate consultation not only with allies but also within the Trump administration. Thus, the past month witnessed twists and turns between Ankara and Washington regarding northeastern Syria.

Moreover, as statements from Moscow show Russia is unlikely to support Turkish-American understandings/arrangements there. The situation in Idlib also remains high on the Turkish-Russian agenda.

On November 10, 2016 Donald Trump said, “If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it.” Continue reading

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Syria: Moment of Truth for the West

January 11, 2019

Defeating ISIS in Syria and ousting President Assad are no longer compatible. They never were. The West must make a choice. The following questions can help find the answer:

  • Was the Western intervention in Syria about promoting democracy?
  • Was it about giving the people of Syria a better future?
  • Does the West mourn the loss of life in Syria?
  • Is the West prepared to receive more refugees from Syria?
  • Is the West capable of redrawing the battlefield picture in Syria?
  • Is there any hope that Assad’s ouster will bring to power a truly reformist leadership closer to the West?

The answer to the first three could at best be “not exactly, but … ”. For the rest it is “no”. Continue reading

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Trump’s U-turn in Syria and Turkey

January 8, 2019

President Trump’s surprise announcement of the withdrawal of US troops from Syria has ended up, unsurprisingly, in another U-turn.

On Sunday his national security advisor John Bolton said, “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the President’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

And Mr. Trump told reporters, “You have to remember, Iran hates ISIS more than we do, if that’s possible.  Russia hates ISIS more than we do.  Turkey hates ISIS, maybe not as much as we do.  But these are countries that hate ISIS.  And they can do a little of the fighting in their neighborhood also, because we’re fighting them in their neighborhood. But with that being said, we’re pulling out of Syria, but we’re doing it and we won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone…”

Firstly, these remarks show that Ankara’s expression of pleasure over the announced pullout was hasty at best. The Trump White House is unpredictable and will remain so. Continue reading

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Syrian Conflict: Moment of Truth for Turkey

January 1, 2019

It has been two tumultuous weeks which started with President Trump’s tweet announcing the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

On December 20, responding to a question on the US pullout and ISIS by the correspondent of the Chicago Tribune, President Putin said: “There is a risk of these and similar groups migrating to neighboring regions and Afghanistan, to other countries, to their home countries, and they are partly returning. It is a great danger for all of us, including Russia, the United States, Europe, Asian countries, including Central Asia. We know that, we understand the risk fully.”

He also said “… let us not forget that their presence, the presence of your troops, is illegitimate as it was not approved by a UN Security Council resolution. The military contingent can only be there under a resolution of the UN Security Council or at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian Government. Russian troops were invited by the Syrian Government. The United States did not get either of these so if they decide to withdraw their troops, it is the right decision.” (emphasis added) Continue reading

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2018 In Retrospect

December 25, 2018

It has been a chaotic year with no or little progress in overcoming world’s outstanding challenges: U.S.-Russia tensions, Middle East turmoil with numerous sub-titles, Ukraine conflict, the future of the JCPOA, North Korea’s nuclear program, migration, trade wars, climate change.

On December 13, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass issued a statement on the conclusion of the first round of UN-sponsored talks between the parties to the conflict in Yemen. He said, “This could not have been done without the United Nations.” The reality is, this could not have been done without Jamal Khashoggi.

Unfortunately, there is more. Continue reading

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Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from Syria

December 22, 2018

President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria seems to have surprised even shocked many, particularly in Washington. His brief announcement left many questions unanswered. Had he been a consistent leader steering his administration in close consultation with a steady team of senior officials, explaining the rational of his policies using conventional methods instead of tweets, maintaining close consultation/cooperation with allies, the reaction could have been different.

In response to criticism he tweeted: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years…”

He was not the only one. This is precisely why David E. Sanger’s New York Times article of December 19 carried the title, “A Strategy of Retreat in Syria, With Echoes of Obama”, whom Mr. Trump has constantly reviled. Continue reading

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The Imperative to Contain Middle East Conflicts

December 8, 2018

With rising but controlled tension over the Kerch Strait incident, a cancelled Trump-Putin meeting, uncertainty regarding U.S.-North Korea dialogue, the war in Yemen, continuing turmoil in the broad Middle East, U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, the prospect of a widening China-U.S. trade war with political consequences, the rise of populism, Brexit, yellow-vests in France, poor global governance and lack of leadership, world agenda has become even more complicated.

The Syrian conflict which remained on top for almost a decade no longer seems to be a priority. In earlier years this was about the future of the Assad regime, dialogue between Damascus and the opposition, a new constitution, elections. Now, however, the content appears to be shifting away from these towards a confrontation between the U.S. and the Astana format. The shift can be explained to a good measure by Trump administration’s anti-Iran policy jointly defined with Israel and supported by the Saudi-led coalition. An interrelated issue is Washington’s cooperation with the PYD/YPG.

Guarantors of the Astana format met in Kazakh capital on November 29, 2018. Their Joint Statement (*) had two messages. Continue reading

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