Meeting Nov. 10 on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit n Danang, Vietnam, 71-year-old Donald Trump and 65-year-old Vladimir Putin agreed on a way forward in Syria. With the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] all but defeated, the two leaders traded ideas on what to do with pockets of Saudi-backed resistance still seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hanging over U.S.-Russian relations is the current bout of Russian hysteria, blaming Moscow for meddling in the U.S. election, something Putin denies. Putin told Trump that he was “insulted” by accusations that he tried to interfere with the U.S. election. Former Democratic nominee Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party and U.S. press insist Russia handed Trump the Nov. 8, 2016 election. Investigating Trump collusion in the 2016 election, Special Counsel former FBI Director Robert Mueller has found nothing.
Trump discussed informally with Putin North Korea’s nuke and ballistic missile program, creating today’s crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Putin’s well-aware of the nuclear threats made by Pyongyang against the United States, knowing Trump won’t tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. While not discussed with Putin, there’s reason to believe that Russia was one among a number of countries that aided-and-abetted North Korea’s nukes and ballistic missile program. Unlike his predecessors over the last 25 years, former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump won’t allow Kim to get a nuclear-tipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missile [ICBM]. Trump wants Putin to help pressure North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un into disarming his nukes and ballistic missiles. Putin admitted Sept. 5 that Kim would rather “eat grass” than give up his nukes and ballistic missiles.
As long as the anti-Russia mood hovers in Congress, it’s going to be difficult for Trump to make headway on disarming North Korea and a creating a real peace plan in Syria. When it comes to Syria, Putin opposes changing regimes in Damascus. Since joining the seven-year-old Saudi proxy war in Syria, Putin’s managed to consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s power. Obama spent six years giving cash-and-arms to Saudi-backed rebel groups seeking to topple al-Assad. While enduring humiliating losses, the Saudi-U.S.-Turkey-backed Syria Democratic Forces [SDF] have been all but vanquished. Regrouping in remote areas of Syria, the SDF have become low on the Sauidi food chain now that 30-year-old Saudi Prince Mohammed bin-Salman is embroiled in a life-or-death purge and power struggle, consolidating his ascension to the Kingdom’s throne.
Holdovers from Obama’s State Department continue to back Saudi-funded rebel groups that have laid waste to Syria over the last seven years. When you consider the over 300,000 dead, 12 million Syrians displaced to neighboring countries and Europe, Obama’s policy backfired, leaving Syria in ruins. Trump’s instincts agree with Putin that al-Assad’s still the best of the worst options to run Syria. Putin doesn’t support the Geneva peace process led by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, essentially rubber stamping the Saudi policy of ousting al-Assad. Saudi’s Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir has been transparent about getting rid of al-Assad. De Mistura has done nothing to rein-in the Saudi proxy war that’s caused much of Syria’s destruction. Blaming al-Assad for defending his sovereignty is unrealistic, just because the Arab Spring worked toppling other Mideast dictators.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson needs to state clearly the U.S. position on Damascus. “We believe that the Geneva process is the right way to go,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, directly contradicting Trump’s stated view that getting rid of al-Assad is not a priority. “Unfortunately, it is a long way off, but we’re getting a little bit closer,” said Nauert, not realizing the contradiction. Spending six years trying to upend al-Assad only brought misery to Syria. However bad al-Assad, including his alleged use of chemical weapons, Russia 100% backs al-Assad’s right to sovereignty. Nauert shows how Obama holdovers continue a failed policy of seeing regime change in Damascus. It’s no wonder Tillerson seeks buyouts and early retirements from career State Department employees.
Trump seeks more cooperation with Moscow to deal with pressing issues in North Korea, where Kim’s nukes and ballistic missiles threaten the region and the world. Trump put the U.N. General Assembly on notice Sept. 19 that he U.S. won’t tolerate nuclear threats from North Korea or any other country. If Mueller could wrap up his investigation into Russian meddling or alleged Trump collusion in the 2016 election, Trump could start the necessary rebuild of U.S.-Russian relations. Indicting former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort for “conspiracy,” money laundering and tax evasion for work he did 10 years before the 2016 campaign, goes beyond his Special Counsel mandate. No one wants war on the Korean Peninsula but unless Kim Jong-un is willing to disarm, Cruise missiles and smart bombs will hit Pyongyang. Improving U.S.-Russian relations is crucial resolving the crisis.