Along with Russia and Iran, Turkey appears to have completed the trilateral relationship that the United States under the former Obama administration could not. It was reported that Presidents Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended a Russian-hosted summit on Wednesday in Sochi. The purpose of the summit was finding a lasting peace in Syria.
Of the three parties, Turkey appears to be the only one that opposes the Syrian regime and is therefore a more likely substitute for the United States. Since Donald Trump took office, his administration has threatened to scale back its support of opposition rebels against Assad on the ground. During his campaign, Trump has said that US troops should remain focused on targeting ISIS rather than going after the Assad regime.
The Obama administration’s involvement in Syria included targeted airstrikes against extremist groups like the Islamic State. At the same time, Russian and Syrian airstrikes were targeting rebels that were aiding the US. There were also reports that civilians were being targeted by all airstrikes, whether intended or not, and that Russia had killed more civilians than ISIS had.
Turkey’s involvement with the coalition fight in Syria did not amount to much as Erdoğan rejected fighting alongside the Kurds. The Turkish government has long considered the Kurds along their border to be terrorists.
With Kurdish militants a part of the coalition, the Obama administration played hardball with Erdoğan saying that as long as they rejected fighting alongside the Kurds, the coalition would not need their help. Reuters also reported that the meeting had been delayed due to Erdoğan’s rejection of a Kurdish presence at the summit.
The hostility between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama was also no secret. The Obama administration made it clear that regime change was the goal along with stopping ISIS. But the Trump administration has not shared this view, despite being tested by the Syrian government in April with reports that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. Our unpredictable White House ordered an attack on a Syrian airfield with Tomahawk missiles in retaliation.
The attack did little to stop the regime which sent more jets from the same airfield on the same evening to conduct more strikes against militants. Even before Donald Trump took office, the Obama administration was already powerless to do much. Russia had taken the lead in Syria frustrating the US as the mediator between the United States and Assad, no doubt, anticipating the election of Trump.
And President Putin anticipated correctly that a Trump presidency would do very little and even less about wanting regime change in Syria. At the most, President Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, had concluded that Putin should cut ties with Assad. But the recent summit indicates that Putin is doing the exact opposite and solidifying his relationship with the US’s rivals and allies.
Earlier in the week, President Putin hosted Assad in Sochi which was clearly a gesture of his support for the Syrian regime. The White House also took a call from Putin this week, where he was manipulated once again. This is because he lacks a foreign policy agenda for Syria and the overall Middle East. A big boost in civilian casualties and destroying old cities isn’t a strategy. Neither is helping to starve out millions of civilians in Yemen.
While there’s definitely support to prevent the US from getting pulled into more Middle East conflicts, the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East in places like Syria is part of a larger pattern of pulling the US out of everywhere. Only to provide friendly regimes in the area with with cash, weapons and logistics.
Iranian President Rouhani took the opportunity to speak at the trilateral summit to demand that countries in the Middle East reject the presence of foreign powers, which is a further effort to speed up the withdraw by the US.
It’s clear that American influence in the Middle East is dwindling. While Israel and Saudi Arabia are powerful allies to be sure, the United States doesn’t enjoy the influence they once had under previous presidents.