Obama’s ISIS advice for Trump – take it slow with Putin
On Thursday, President Obama addressed German media regarding the complicated relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He encouraged his successor to stand up for American values and avoid taking a more expedient approach.
“I don’t expect that the president-elect will follow exactly our approach, but my hope is he does not simply take a realpolitik approach and suggest that, you know, if we just cut some deals with Russia, even if it hurts people or even if it violates international norms or even if it leaves smaller countries vulnerable, or creates long-term problems in regions like Syria, that we just do whatever’s convenient at the time,” President Obama said in a joint press conference with Angela Merkel and the German media.
“My hope is the president-elect coming in takes a similarly constructive approach: Finding areas where we can cooperate with Russia, where our values and interests align but are willing to stand up to Russia where they are deviating from our values and international norms.”
On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald J. Trump made it clear he was willing to work with the Russian president. But Obama urged his successor to take it slow because he had concerns regarding the Russian leader and his perceived fight against ISIS in Syria.
The Russian leader did call to congratulate Trump on his sweeping victory. Trump’s office confirmed the phone call and said that Putin “offered his congratulations” and reviewed mutual threats and, “strategic economic issues.” The short discussion included the long-term relations the two countries shared.
“The overall tone of the conversation corresponded with the tone of statements already made during [Trump’s] election campaign concerning Russian-American relations,” Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
According to a press release, “Putin and Trump agreed that the current state of US-Russia relations is unsatisfactory and agreed to actively work toward their normalization and constructive cooperation on a broad range of issues.” And the statement emphasized that both countries need to “return to a pragmatic, mutually beneficial cooperation that meets the interests of the two states as well as stability and security in the world.”
In a Heritage Foundation speech last month, former Rep. Mike Rogers clarified one area where he disagrees with his former boss, Donald Trump. The president-elect strongly favors a renewed diplomatic relationship with the Russian President and strongman. “The Russians are certainly on the march,” Rogers said. “Russia’s change in the way they have used their cyber policy will give you a bead of sweat.”
But it was this kind of thinking that led to Trump’s decision to let the former Congressman go and another indication that the flamboyant businessman turned politician is listening to the voters who gave him the White House victory.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), an outspoken critic of Trump, sided with the former Congressman confirming he will battle a President Trump’s national security policy with Russia. The current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said any effort to “reset” relations with Russia is deplorable. Mr. Trump has frequently reminded Americans that Senator McCain was an avid supporter of the failed Iraq War and continues to support multiple wars in the Middle East.
“With the US presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” McCain said in a statement. “We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies and attempted to undermine America’s elections.”
However, November’s election results saw more establishment players in both parties lose their grip on power and it’s clear the new administration will seek a new direction in the Middle East. It’s likely the old guard will continue its dissension with Russia’s growing hegemony in the region.
“That is an unacceptable price for a great nation. When America has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side [of] those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again,” McCain regurgitated.
Nevertheless, Middle East allies are taking the opportunity to welcome the President-Elect’s renewed focus on fighting the brutal terrorist group ISIS.
“Should Trump indeed decide to focus on the fight against the Islamic State and Islamic extremists in general, it would create some solid ground for cooperation with Moscow. Yet his actual policy may be more nuanced, and at this point, the equation has many unknowns, especially given genuine opposition to such cooperation within the Pentagon,” the Middle East paper al-Monitor reported.
“Changing this situation is a serious challenge, and the key question people in Moscow are asking these days is: Given that Trump is hard pressed on every side already, will he be forced to compromise his position on Russia for the sake of a ‘deal’ with the Washington establishment — including his own party, where the level of antagonism vis-a-vis Moscow is high? Or will he remain determined to fix the relationship with the Kremlin — albeit for the pragmatic reasons of safeguarding US national interests as he sees them?”
However, the current president and incoming leader strongly differ in their plan to defeat the terrorist group ISIS. This was highlighted with Trump’s pick of Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, a trusted confident as his National Security Advisor. The outspoken former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) repeatedly warned President Obama that ISIS was on the rise and not classifying the enemy as a “radical Islamic terrorism” organization would only allow the barbarous group to expand and gain territory. He was proved right.
In an effort to restrain the president-elect, the lame-duck Congress voted for robust new Syrian sanctions that could make any new policy efforts more difficult.
A Democratic congressional aide told Al-Monitor “that bill writers declined to do so, in part because of concerns that Trump might use that authority to avoid enforcing the law.”
The sponsor of the bill, Eliot Engel (D-NY) told al-Monitor: “I am sensitive to the fact that there have to be some waivers because presidents have to have a certain kind of authority. But I am unhappy with waivers all the time that you can drive a Mack truck through. I think at some point Congress has to say what it feels and, as a co-equal branch of government, have as much of a say as the executive.” Maybe the election provoked a change in heart as Congress has really let President Obama fight an undefined war for nearly eight years despite the War Powers Act.
It’s no secret that Trump has a different point of view on Syria. He told The Wall Street Journal: “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting [the Islamic State (IS)], and you have to get rid of [IS]. … Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”
Trump has made it clear that he isn’t interested in regime change and since the election; Assad called Trump a “natural ally.”
The embattled Syrian president told Portugal’s RTP state television “If he [Trump] is going to fight the terrorists, of course, we are going to be [an] ally, natural ally in that regard with the Russian[s], with the Iranian[s], with many other countries.”
But Obama strongly disagrees. “The way this is going to be resolved is going to have to be a recognition by Russia and a willingness to pressure Assad that a lasting durable peace with a functioning country requires the consent of people,” Obama said. “You cannot purchase people’s consent through killing them. They haven’t made that transition yet. But we’re going to keep on trying.”
Siding with President Obama is the establishment politicos who just had their fannies handed to them by the American people. “Republicans and Democrats recognize the need to isolate the Assad regime for its continued atrocities against the Syrian people,” a statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-WI). “I’m glad the White House has stopped blocking these critical sanctions, which are a necessary response to Assad’s crimes against humanity.”
Also agreeing with Ryan was Rep. Engel. “I am very concerned about the destructive role Russia is playing and has played in Syria. And I feel that they ought to be challenged, that we cannot simply let them get away with this.”
But judging Mr. Trump’s advisory picks, it looks like Congress will be battling for control of a new US foreign policy, one that leaves nation building and regime change in the dustbins of history.