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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2345

Trump vs Putin: the show of strength in the Syrian theatre

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

President Trump and President Putin, after all, are not very good friends, despite what we had been hearing during the presidential election campaign to the contrary, because friends normally are not engaged in things that lead to mutual embarrassment in the full glare of global publicity.

The alleged chemical attack on Syrian civilians and the US missile strike on the very place where it all began left many political observers baffled in the past few days. The dangerously evolving US foreign policy and the consequences that follow when stakeholders react to it in safeguarding their own interests, do not appear to be making the world any safer. On the contrary, they have all the political ingredients to make the latter even messier.

Before the air strike, the focus of the Trump administration was on North Korea and its ballistic missile programme: both allies and foes of the administration thought, it was the top priority of the administration – for obvious reasons; then, all of a suddenly, the focus is shifted on Syria – and on Russia for that matter – with a 1800 policy reversal, because the avowed Middle eastern policy during the election campaign of this administration had been non-involvement, while rebuking those who muddied the waters in the previous administrations.

Neither the US nor Russia seem to be having a clear policy on Syria, as they both rely on the same strategy to subdue what they identify as enemy – bombing. Since the enemy of one camp, by default, is the friend of the other camp in the Syrian theatre, the propaganda mechanism gets warmed up in direct proportion to the heat generated from either side, while eclipsing the truth from the dust of destruction, endless human misery and misinformation.

Although, President Trump has been praised for swift action, the reaction of the US allies has been measured; they just said that the military action was proportionate. Apart from the reaction from some members in favour of the attack, NATO, as a whole, has been quiet on the issue, as if the organisation had not recovered from the Trump outbursts in the past about the relevance of the military alliance in the 21st century.

The Trump administration, on its part, has not reached out to its allies for help either; of course, the latter has been informed about the attack, hours before they took place; that, however, is not an indication of reaching out to friends for help or approval. In short, they may be scratching their heads about the sudden development.

Tomahawks don’t come cheap: each costs about 1 million US dollars; the total cost of 59 missiles alone was over 60 million dollars; the cost of manpower, machinery and naval assets may spiral upwards crossing 100 million dollar mark in a very short period of time.

Against this backdrop, Russia says the attack was not effective, while the US says the exact opposite. Since neither side is prepared to put boots on the ground, it is highly likely that the military intervention will be confined to attacking – or counterattacking – by air in the foreseeable future.

None of us thought that the relationship between Russia and the US would deteriorate so fast, when the early signals were of thawing the frosty relationship; the recent talk has been on the direct military clash, if things do not improve – quite unprecedented.

There is hope, though. Both President Trump and President Putin have shown the world that they are good at falling out with their friends fast – and then patching things up.

President Trump’s offer of olive branch to his opponents that include the New York Times and Hilary Clinton, in the aftermath of the presidential election is a case in point. President Putin also fell out with President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, the Turkish president, when the Turks shot down a Russian jet. The pair, however, became friends after few months. In short, both President Putin and President Trump seem to believe in the noble concept of forgiving and forgetting in order to move on.

In this context, the two leaders would not use the ground of a Middle Eastern state in order to determine the fate of mankind, despite it being conducive for menacingly familiar sabre-rattling.

- Asian Tribune -

Trump vs Putin: the show of strength in the Syrian theatre
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