Some­times Trump is right

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS -

EVEN A stopped clock is right twice a day. Don­ald J. Trump’s record is not that good, but he does get it right once in a while. He got it right last Tues­day when he said that Hil­lary Clin­ton would be dan­ger­ously ag­gres­sive in Syria if she wins the pres­i­dency.

Trump went too far, of course. He al­ways does. He claimed that Clin­ton would trig­ger World War Three with her Syr­ian pol­icy, which is ut­ter non­sense. Given the cur­rent in­ter­na­tional bal­ance of power, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to get a Rus­sian-Amer­i­can war go­ing. The Rus­sians sim­ply aren’t that stupid.

Even a new Cold War is hard to imag­ine. The Rus­sians know that they would lose it in only a few years, so they would refuse to play their al­lot­ted role in any such sce­nario. But USRus­sian diplo­matic re­la­tions would get dis­tinctly frosty for a while – and the United States, in the mean­time, would be up to its neck in the Syr­ian civil war and bet­ting on the wrong horse.

What Trump ac­tu­ally said, in an in­ter­view con­ducted at his Florida golf re­sort be­tween bites of fried egg and sausages, was that the United States should fo­cus on de­feat­ing ISIS. “We should not be fo­cus­ing on Syria. You’re go­ing to end up in World War Three over Syria if we lis­ten to Hil­lary Clin­ton.”

The Clin­ton pol­icy in ques­tion is her prom­ise (re­peated in the third de­bate) to de­clare a nofly zone and “safe zones” on the ground in Syria to pro­tect non­com­bat­ants. Those zones, of course, would deny the Syr­ian govern­ment the chance to re­cover the ter­ri­tory it has lost to the rebels and de­prive the Rus­sian air force of the abil­ity to help it in that task.

But what if the Syr­i­ans and the Rus­sians don’t ac­cept that the United States has the right to set up no-fly zones on Syr­ian ter­ri­tory just be­cause it feels like it? What if they send their planes into those zones and dare the US air force to shoot them down? Then the US has to choose be­tween back­ing down and be­ing pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated – or shoot­ing down Rus­sian air­craft, and (ac­cord­ing to Trump), start­ing World War Three.

“You’re not fight­ing Syria any­more, you’re fight­ing Syria, Rus­sia and Iran, all right?” Trump ex­plained. If Hil­lary Clin­ton set up her nofly zones and safe zones, she would be ask­ing for a war with Rus­sia.

She would in­deed be ask­ing for it – but she knows that she prob­a­bly would not get it. The Rus­sians might shoot down a few Amer­i­can planes in re­sponse, and the United Na­tions would plead with both sides to show re­straint. By then both sides would be suf­fi­ciently fright­ened that they would be all too happy to back away from their con­fronta­tion.

RUS­SIANS CANT WIN WAR

The Rus­sians would be es­pe­cially happy to do so be­cause they know per­fectly well that they could not win a war with the United States. Even leav­ing aside the ques­tion of nu­clear weapons (which make such a war un­think­able), Rus­sia is sim­ply not a cred­i­ble ri­val to the United States any­more: it has half the pop­u­la­tion of the for­mer Soviet Union and an econ­omy one-tenth the size of the United States.

So Clin­ton would not re­ally be court­ing World War Three if she did what she has promised. She would, how­ever, be do­ing some­thing very reck­less and stupid. Af­ter Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the United States re­ally does not need to get more deeply en­tan­gled in an­other un­winnable war in the Mid­dle East.

What Trump is ad­vo­cat­ing is ac­tu­ally the pol­icy that Obama has been fol­low­ing over the whole five years of the Syr­ian civil war: con­cen­trate on elim­i­nat­ing ISIS, and do not get in­volved in the rebel mil­i­tary cam­paign to over­throw Bashar al-As­sad’s regime, how­ever much you may dis­like it. No more moral cru­sades. Whereas Clin­ton, by declar­ing no-fly zones, would ef­fec­tively be cre­at­ing safe ar­eas for the rebels to op­er­ate out of.

How­ever, the great ma­jor­ity of the ac­tive anti-regime fight­ers be­long to ISIS, or to the equally ex­treme group that used to be called the Nusra Front and is now chang­ing its name ev­ery week or so in an at­tempt to con­ceal its true ori­gins as a break­away part of Is­lamic State and an af­fil­i­ate of al-Qaeda.

Most of the smaller rebel groups that Wash­ing­ton calls ‘mod­er­ates’ are ac­tu­ally less ex­treme Is­lamists who are ei­ther vol­un­tar­ily al­lied with the Nusra Front or in thrall to it. But the fan­tasy still lives in Wash­ing­ton that it can bring to­gether enough genuine ‘mod­er­ates’ to cre­ate a ‘third force’ that de­feats both the As­sad regime and the ex­trem­ists of ISIS and the Nusra Front.

This has been the of­fi­cial po­si­tion of the Wash­ing­ton con­sen­sus on for­eign pol­icy for five years now, and Hil­lary Clin­ton is a paid-up mem­ber of that delu­sion­ary group. If she car­ries through on her prom­ises, she prob­a­bly will trig­ger a cri­sis with the Rus­sians, and she will cer­tainly in­volve the United States much more deeply in the Syr­ian civil war.

It’s al­most enough to make you vote for Trump. But not quite.

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