Political Intrigue Deepens Over Trump's Strategy for Syria, China

© AFP 2022 / MOLLY RILEYRepublican presidential nominee Donald Trump takes the stage for a campaign event at Fredericksburg Expo Center August 20, 2016 in Fredericksburg, Virginia
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump takes the stage for a campaign event at Fredericksburg Expo Center August 20, 2016 in Fredericksburg, Virginia - Sputnik International
US President-elect Donald Trump "won't find it possible" to abandon Washington's long-term initiatives to end Russia’s presence in Syria and overthrow Bashar al-Assad, US political commentator Stephen Ebert suggested in an interview with Sputnik; the commentator also criticized Trump's stance regarding the "One China" policy.

Syrian pro-government troops hold a position in Aleppo's eastern Karm al-Jabal neighborhood as they advance towards al-Shaar neighbourhood on December 5, 2016 during their offensive to retake Syria's second city. - Sputnik International
Losing Aleppo: Western Countries Panicking Over Their Lack of a Plan B in Syria
As US President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration nears, tensions are rising in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

Last Wednesday the leaders of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada threatened Bashar al-Assad's allies with the imposition of sanctions on them over Aleppo.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Trump said that he "doesn't know" why the US has to be bound by the "One China" policy regarding its relations with Taiwan. The move has prompted a firestorm of criticism from Chinese observers.

In his interview with Sputnik Stephen Ebert, a US political commentator and expert at the Agency for Strategic Communications (ASK), commented on the situation in the Middle East and Trump's possible foreign policy strategy.

Liberation of Aleppo is a Fait Accompli

So, is it possible that the Western countries will impose sanctions on Russia and will new sanctions impact the Russo-Syrian operation to liberate Aleppo?

"Anything that hurts Russia and anyone that dares be allies or otherwise take its side is possible, and sanctions are likely [to be] more 'acceptable' compared to further escalating the violence in Syria to oust Assad," Ebert told Sputnik.

"While the West has desperately whipped up public opinion to try to stop the liberation [of Aleppo], it appears even as of today this is already a fait accompli — it is too late for sanctions to prevent this. Having said that, sanctions would, however, likely to be leveraged to slow or prevent the liberation and return to Syrian control of other major areas — e.g. Raqqa, which the West wants to keep outside Assad's control after Aleppo's 'fall'," he emphasized.

Attack on Palmyra: A Move to Offset the 'Loss' of Aleppo

This image posted online on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, by supporters of the Islamic State militant group on an anonymous photo sharing website, purports to show a gunman firing an anti-tank missile at Syrian troops north of Palmyra city, in Homs Provence, Syria - Sputnik International
Daesh in Disguise: Terrorists Moved to Palmyra 'Dressed as Bedouins & Soldiers'
Some experts speculate that Daesh's (ISIL/ISIS) recent attack on Palmyra is "a deceptive maneuver aimed at distracting the government troops from Aleppo." Previously, Daesh has managed to move 5,000 terrorists from Mosul to Raqqa. Due to the fact that the US-led coalition's offensive against Raqqa suddenly stalled, the terrorists jumped at the opportunity to attack Palmyra.

Is it a coincidence or a sort of plan on part of the West?

"I see the resumed attack on Palmyra as more of a move to offset the 'loss' of Aleppo," Ebert responded, "When the siege of Mosul began ('liberation' in Western eyes), to me, it was clear the US would leave a corridor open to the West for ISIL [Daesh] to exit through and go to reinforce their brothers in Syria."

"Despite recent efforts by the same Iranian forces helping Syria to seal this leak, it does appear significant numbers got out anyway. While there do appear to be legitimate 'battlefield' reasons, if not humanitarian and political ones, for the stalled Mosul drive, the West would certainly continue their initial position on ISIL [Daesh] — letting them do whatever they wanted as long as it led to the downfall of Assad. Equally significant, the West has also stalled further attacks on Raqqa, the 'capital' of ISIL in Syria," he pointed out.

Trump 'Won't be Able' to Reshuffle US' Policies Toward Assad in Syria

While the outgoing Obama administration is seemingly trying to deepen the rift between Washington and Moscow over Syria, the question arises whether the Trump cabinet's policies toward Syria and Iraq will differ from those of their predecessors?

"I do not believe Trump will find it possible to abandon longer-term initiatives to end Russia's presence in Syria and overthrow Assad," Ebert suggested.

Syrian pro-government forces walk amidst the rubble in old Aleppo's Jdeideh neighbourhood on December 9, 2016 - Sputnik International
West Deprived of 'Heavy Arguments' Against Russia, Damascus in Aleppo
"To do so would mean fully acceding to a Russian return to the region. Beyond Syria, Russia is also an ally of Iran's, has seen Turkey become ever more neutral, and is being looked upon more favorably by Iraq and Afghanistan," the US political commentator explained.

"This is simply not something any President can unilaterally decide, especially given the historically weak position of Trump as he enters office — i.e. he lost the popular vote by over 2 million votes (and so has no popular mandate), and does not have strong support for many if not most of his positions from the party that nominally backed him," he believes.

As for all the talk of Trump "disbanding" NATO, this will not happen anytime soon, according to the commentator.

"All he really said was 'pay what you agreed to,' which will only mean more weapons for NATO along with more US military spending," Ebert remarked.

© AFP 2022 / DELIL SOULEIMANMen in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces as they ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa. (File)
Men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces as they ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa. (File) - Sputnik International
Men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces as they ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqa. (File)

Trump's 'Pivot to Asia' and 'One China' Policy

Meanwhile, it seems that Trump has his own "pivot to Asia" strategy, given the fact he has recently thrown the "One China" policy into question. Is it a bluff, an attempt to force Beijing to overreact or does Trump want to create a bargaining chip to rebalance US-Chinese relations?

"I see Trump's recent actions in this area to be a sign of his quite dangerously amateurish and uninformed view of the world," Ebert said.

"Trump seems blissfully ignorant of how interdependent China and the US have become," the political commentator emphasized, "They have lately bought the vast majority of our debt, continue to provide cheap consumer goods while being a key export market for higher-priced US goods. Or, even something as simple as seeing how much the US and world economies remain largely stagnant largely due to a 'slowdown' in growth in China from over 10% to 5-7%."

A general view shows the skyline of a central business district in Beijing - Sputnik International
China Already Has 'Plan B' to Cope With Trump's 'Unpredictability'
"But, at the end of the day, Trump, seeing himself as some grand chess master — master of the deal — no doubt thinks he can wave a magic wand and use this new direction to gain leverage for reworking a number of past deals. This will meet the same fate as Obama trying to isolate Russia… a lot of additional headaches not just for the US and China, but the whole world," he added.

Trump's seeming rebalance toward China has prompted some experts to think that the US President-elect may follow in Richard Nixon's footsteps and try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing.

"I have to say I find it amusing to think of Trump politically and in terms of international affairs as being anywhere near close to Nixon — widely acknowledged as a 'grand master'," Ebert pointed out.

"As we all came to learn during the presidential race, Trump is a businessman and a showman focused on quite short-term 'deals' measured in monetary terms. As such, he has shown himself to be largely devoid of overarching values and strategic insight," he believes.

"His [Trump's] initial actions are likely to drive Moscow and Beijing closer together," Ebert assumed.

"Since Trump states he will back off intervening abroad — as in the South China Sea — the only pivot would be in the area of trade, and here he has been a quite outspoken opponent of the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. As a result, there does not appear to be either the desire or strategic understanding or thinking by Trump to make this happen," the US political commentator concluded.

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