Last week President Trump took an action in the Middle East, it was rather simple to fire 60 TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles) at the airfield that was used to launch a chemical attack against innocent civilians. The grander question now becomes, what next? What is the Trump Doctrine for the Middle East? How will Mr. Trump thread a needle that many prior leaders have not exactly done well?
And that tale begins post World War I with the infamous Sykes-Picot Treaty that carved up a post-Ottoman Empire region. Instead of threading a needle, the European powers of England and France used a very broad crayon, paying little attention to the deep-seated schisms that had existed for centuries. And as we remember, just last week was the beginning of the “War to end all Wars”, we find ourselves focused in the same region that has become one of the most unstable, and dangerous.
It would be a good recommendation for Team Trump to go back and study the Sykes-Picot Treaty in order to assess the finer points, as they craft their Middle East strategy and vision. And this has to be a strategy that is not simply focused on the next election cycle, but rather the next 20-30 years, lest our children and grandchildren will look back upon our folly.
When one considers just Syria, this is not a simple case of a genocidal maniac, whose dad was as well. The plethora of players in that small country is expanding, and the situation is rather convoluted and can easily spin out of control, just as what happened some 100 years ago.
Syria is a place where state and non-state belligerent coexist, and they all have respective goals and objectives. First of all, the world cannot tolerate or allow for international norms, rules, and laws to be violated, such as the use of chemical weapons. But we must also come to grips with the fact that Syria is supported by two Nations that are fully complicit with the actions that have taken place, Russia and Iran.
Russia, under Vladmir Putin, seeks to reestablish itself in the Middle East, and Syria has been a standing ally. Putin wants that Mediterranean Sea port and wants to expand a footprint into the region, he was granted a pass due to President Obama’s declared flexibility after his reelection. One thing that Putin is wary of is a long term drawn out engagement, such as the one that brought down the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Therefore, Putin has sought out a regional actor, who also despises the United States, as an ally in Syria, that is Iran.
Iran needs Syria in order to extend its hegemonic dominance from Tehran through Iraq to the Mediterranean. In other words, they seek to create a power base from the Persian Gulf, do not forget Yemen on the Saudi peninsula, to another major body of water.
Not to be dismissed, as Iran is a Shia Muslim nation, there are Sunni factions seeking to thwart their efforts. Here is where deeper sectarian divides occur with the Sunni, al-Qaeda affiliated, Al Nusra Front and others looking to block those efforts and dethrone the Alawite-Shiite alliance in Syria. As well, based upon Islamic history, we have the savage terrorist organization, the Islamic State, which has sought to establish the Caliphate in Syria, at Raqqa.
All this gives reason as to why the Trump administration cannot adopt a foreign policy such as Obama’s “don’t do stupid s!@t”, which in the end they did near-constantly.
This is not the “art of the deal”, it is graduate level geopolitics, and cannot be accomplished by tweet. We need not be embroiled in any major nation building or regime change endeavor with Syria, but the Trump administration must ask itself, what does the Middle East look like 30 years from now based upon our decisions? And we must end the deceptive illusion that we can supplant Jeffersonian democracies in that region.
The immediate objective is to defeat ISIS. Secondly, we must isolate Assad from his support of Russia and Iran, which can be done diplomatically and economically. We must reduce Russian and Iranian spheres of influence and their support to terrorist organizations. We can seek to set the conditions for the Syrian people to determine their own future and repatriate their countrymen and women back home. We need to make it very clear, whether Sunni or Shia, we will not tolerate or accept Islamic jihadism. We need to establish a NATO-like organization for the Middle East, and let leaders like those in Egypt and Jordan take a lead role.
This is the needle that must be threaded, and President Trump must address the American people, and the world on his vision for doing so.