[Donald] Trump has decided to end the CIA's covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.To describe this as "a move long sought by Moscow" is an understatement. My friend (and expert in this area) Leah McElrath explains:
...Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump's interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests.
...After the Trump-Putin meeting, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to back a new cease-fire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long operated. Trump described the limited cease-fire deal as one of the benefits of a constructive working relationship with Moscow.
By ceasing U.S. military aid to anti-Assad forces in Syria, Trump gave Russian Putin a gift Russia has sought for more than a century: Earlier this year, Putin signed a treaty with Assad to establish and expand a naval base on the coast of Syria that is allowed to house up to eleven nuclear-powered warships at a time for 49 years, with ability to extend for another 25 years.This is, of course, the second long-sought gift Trump has delivered to Putin, the first being subversion the of U.S.-Germany alliance. As I noted in May: "Trump is working very hard to undermine goodwill with our NATO allies, with a special insult to Germany. Since the end of WWII, Russia has had an explicit objective of busting up the U.S.-German alliance, because the combined strength of the U.S. and Germany, in both military might and democratic cultural influence, provided a check on the empiric aspirations of the Soviet Union, now Russia. Trump's subversion of the U.S-Germany relationship is providing a dangerous opening to Putin, who has already made abundantly clear his intent to rebuild Russia's reach with his annexation of Crimea and moves in Ukraine."
Historically, a central geopolitical goal for Russia has been to conquer enough territory to obtain a warm-water port for itself which will enable it to reach the Mediterranean Sea and, from there, the Atlantic Ocean. The vast majority of its extensive coastline is in the north in cold-waters that tend to freeze over. The warm-water coastal areas in Russia front land-locked seas.
So, by withdrawing the relatively minimal support provided by the U.S. to the anti-Assad forces, the likelihood of Assad killing everyone who is left opposing him in Syria is much higher. And Putin gets Russia its warm-water port after more than a century of effort by the country, as it has moved through its various iterations as an empire, a socialist union, and an authoritarian federation.
Aspirations about which two female world leaders — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May — have explicitly warned Trump. (Three female world leaders, if we count Hillary Clinton. Which we should.) But one of the problems with choosing a rank misogynist to run the country is that he won't listen to women, especially when he's also a disloyal scofflaw who is intent on making Putin's wish fulfillment the centerpiece of his presidency.
So here we are.
One last item: Last month, I detailed the curious history of this "work with Russia to defeat IS in Syria" foreign policy approach — and how, before the 2016 election, joining forces with Russia to defeat ISIS was not a mainstream position, on either side of the aisle, because, as Hillary Clinton explained during the second presidential debate, Putin "isn't interested in ISIS" and Russia's assault on Aleppo was instead intended to destroy Syrian rebels opposed to Assad's regime.
Nonetheless, during the 2016 election, the one in which Russia interfered with the objective of critically weakening Clinton, every single one of her leading opponents suggested working with Russia in some manner, using the justification of joining forces to defeat ISIS.
Her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders, and all of her general election opponents — Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson — all four from across the political spectrum, and all four with campaign ties to Russia, each offered a policy of aligning with Russia, with the rationale of defeating ISIS, a foreign policy position that was not being advocated by any serious politicians before the 2016 election.
And a rationale that has never made, and continues to make, no sense based on the most basic understanding of Russia's objectives and alliances in Syria.
Trump, whose campaign appears to have received the most direct help from Russia and may have colluded with Russia during the election, is now the president. And so he is the one who is now enacting this "futile and dangerous" policy.
Hillary Clinton was the only candidate who we can be certain never would have handed this gift to Putin.